If you’re like me, you’ve wondered recently why it costs the city of San Diego money to have fire pits and why removing them will help close the budget gap.

Here’s a fact sheet just put out by the Mayor’s Office:

The city of San Diego’s Park and Recreation Department today began removing 186 concrete fire pits from its beaches and shoreline parks.

Removal of the fire pits, which will occur through the end of the year, was among numerous steps approved by the City Council to close the City’s $43 million budget gap. The Appropriations Ordinance approved by the Council on Tuesday eliminates the beach fire program in its entirety.

The annual cost to the city’s Park and Recreation Department to service the fire pits — which are located in Mission Bay and on the beaches of La Jolla, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach — is $173,000.   

That cost was primarily due to the need to clean the fire pits of ash and debris at least once a week to protect the health and safety of beach users. The cleaning process required two employees, using a front loader and a dump truck, and took an average of 30 minutes for each fire pit. The pits measure 60″ by 60″ by 15″ and weigh 1,954 pounds.

To be serviced, the fire pits had to be lifted so the ash and debris could be dug out and transported to a maintenance yard on Fiesta Island. There, the ash was cleaned of the glass, nails, needles, bottle caps, cans, plastic bottles and other objects commonly found in the debris. The crews that service these pits take protective measures to safeguard their health.

Over the past 10 years, the number of fire pits on San Diego beaches has gradually declined. In 1990, the city had 450 rings; however many were removed in response to resident complaints and budget reductions. In fiscal year 2004, the City Council reduced the number of fire rings from 300 to 150; since that time, approximately 35 were replaced. The FY09 budget reductions eliminate the entire program.

Although recreational fires will no longer be authorized, portable barbecue devices are still permitted on city beaches when used to burn authorized fuels: charcoal, wood and paper. Wood must be free of landscape debris, paint, stain, sealer, wood preservation, cloth, rubber, metal (including nails and other hardware), asphalt, foam rubber, plastic or similar material producing noxious fumes or odors, or leaving any type of solid residue other than ash. It is unlawful for any barbecue device to be used between midnight and 5 a.m.

It is a misdemeanor violation of the Municipal Code to build a fire on the sand or in any device other than a portable barbecue. The maximum penalty is $1,000 for each individual involved in the building or use of the illegal fire.

The city of San Diego joins other municipalities, including the cities of Carlsbad and Del Mar, which have also removed fire pits for reasons varying from budgetary shortfalls to safety concerns. Local agencies that still offer beach and waterfront fire programs include the cities of Coronado, Imperial Beach, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Oceanside, as well as the Port of San Diego on Shelter Island.

City workers began removing the fire pits Wednesday on Fiesta Island. On average, 18 fire pits will be removed daily; the process is expected to be complete within two weeks.

Update: Will Carless just pointed out that I left out the best part:

Note: The fire pits used by the city are square, not round, and so are not accurately described as “fire rings.” The city replaced its circular fire pits several years ago because people kept rolling them into the surf.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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