Last week the council, by a 5-0 vote, implemented new mandatory wood burning restrictions. In a press release on Wednesday, Jacques DeBra of the Public Works Department attempts to explain the rules to the public.
“The City is introducing a program to establish a ‘No Burn’ wood burning policy during the winter months,” the press release says. “The new rules prohibit people from burning wood on certain days when the air is forecast to have a high degree of particulate matter in it.”
“The City is hoping that the new program will reduce wood smoke on the days when it is most likely to cause health impacts to residents. One of the primary goals is to reduce nearest neighbor impacts associated with wood burning on ‘No Burn’ days,” the release continues.
From November 1, 2012, through February 28, 2013, mandatory “No Burn” days will be established when the fine particulate matter in the air is at a level determined to be unhealthy for certain individuals.
The council, after some discussion last week, decided on the level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter or higher over a 24-hour period, as determined by the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District (Yolo-Solano AQMD).
As the city notes, “This threshold corresponds to an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 74 or higher.”
One of the key questions people are asking is how they find out which days are no burn days. Right now that information is rather limited and according to the city, “Individuals may look on the city’s website at cityofdavis.org to find out whether it is a ‘No Burn’ day.”
The Vanguard is considerably concerned that this is insufficient, and we suggest that the city look into ways to upgrade their communications system.
The other critical question is the complaint process. The council made it very clear last week that any fines or penalties would be based on complaints, meaning there would be no roving bands of police or code enforcement officials moving through the streets in search of violators.
“It is complaint based,” Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said. “So that perhaps with that kind of a compromise we’re able to get at the nearest neighbor and able to move forward.”
The press release explains, “If the City receives a complaint that a resident is burning wood on a ‘No Burn’ day, that resident will first receive a warning and an explanation of the program. The City will issue a second warning if it receives an additional complaint.”
The idea that the city is going to be knocking and checking is inaccurate. Citizens will simply receive a letter and if they believe the letter is in error, they can appeal it.
The release continues: “After two written warnings, additional complaints will be referred to Code Enforcement for follow-up, further investigation and possible citation.”
The city is really hoping that the neighbors can work things out before they have to become involved.
But, as Mayor Krovoza explained, while many people do abide by the voluntary program, a lot don’t and those who complain say that they get blown off because it is voluntary.
One email, for example, expresses, “I want to thank you for speaking for those of us who have not complained about a neighbor who uses wood to heat her house.”
They write, “My next-door neighbor does have an ‘approved’ stove and has extended her chimney. She knows her burning is a problem – it is not a matter of education. Her smoke is particularly bothersome in the mornings when the south breeze is up.”
“The bottom line is that this neighbor has no intention of stopping her 24/7 burning. I have not complained to the city because, even with this new ordinance, I doubt that there is anything to do. I did talk with folks at the Yolo Solano AQD. I have started a new asthma prevention medicine,” they continue.
This ordinance gives the city a tool to step in, in these extreme cases. Most of the time, a letter of warning is going to be sufficient to at least work things out with the neighbor.
There are questions about exemptions, as well.
The ordinance exempts EPA Phase II-certified wood-burning devices and burning of manufactured fire logs, provided that there are no visible smoke emissions if burning on a “No Burn” day. Exemptions may also be granted for low-income residents, who can apply for a permit to burn on “No Burn” days through the City’s Administrative Services Department.
The key provision is no visible smoke emissions. This is largely an ease of enforcement issue, but also a fairness issue. Some have argued that the ordinance is not fair in that people with the EPA Phase II stoves actually release a lot more particulate matter into the community because they tend to burn longer for the purposes of heating their homes.
The no visible smoke rule is an effort to reduce emissions and an effort to make the prohibition more fair.
“The City encourages residents to check cityofdavis.org before burning wood in their fireplace or wood stove for updated burn day status and for more information on the City’s 2012-13 wood burning program,” the city continues, noting that the newspaper “will also publish information on the City’s wood burning program from November through February.”
“The City is hopeful that all Davis residents will comply with the ordinance to protect the health of all citizens,” the release concludes.
Those wishing to submit wood burning complaints are encouraged to visit the City’s website at cityofdavis.org and complete the online complaint form.
The City strongly encourages all to use the City’s website because it is online twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. However, the public may also contact the City at 757-5686 to file a complaint with staff during normal business hours, or to leave a message after business hours, if one is having a problem with online access.
—David M. Greenwald reporting