Outdoor burning rules likely to tighten in San Lorenzo Valley
by Joe Shreve
Sep 06, 2012 | 4379 views | 15 15 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Outdoor burns like this one face scrutiny because of health concerns related to air pollution from the smoke.
Outdoor burns like this one face scrutiny because of health concerns related to air pollution from the smoke.

Friday, Sept. 7, is the final day to submit comments to the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District before the district’s board votes on an air-quality control plan targeted specifically at smoke pollution from outdoor yard waste burns in the San Lorenzo Valley.

At its Wednesday, Sept. 19 meeting, district directors are scheduled to vote on a plan -- developed by district staff -- to tighten regulations on backyard yard waste burns throughout Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. The strictest regulations will target the San Lorenzo Valley.

Across the district, the plan revises regulations for outdoor burning under District Rule 438.

Upon approval, the rule would:

  • Require district-issued smoke management permits for all backyard waste fires.
  • Change the dates of the burning season -— currently Dec. 1 to April 30 — by adding 15 days to either end, resulting in a Nov. 15 to May 15 burn season.
  • Require all fires to be a minimum of 100 feet away from a structure on an adjacent property, with waivers possible following a site inspection.
  • Make it illegal to burn on a parcel smaller than a half-acre, except for areas not served by, or inaccessible to, waste pickup services. Waivers would also be possible following a site inspection.

Stricter for SLV

For the San Lorenzo Valley, however, the rules would be more stringent.

The valley’s air quality has been in the district’s spotlight over much of the past year -- district officials talked with the Press-Banner in February of health concerns stemming from the concentration of woodstove-heated homes, slow air currents and bowl-like topography that traps smoky air in the valley.

Following years of complaints about smoke, the district began an intensive study on the air quality in the San Lorenzo Valley in November 2011, setting up three monitoring stations to determine the smoke particulate levels.

Monitoring stations were set up at the Cal Fire station in Felton, at San Lorenzo Valley Elementary School, also in Felton, and at the Ben Lomond fire station.

The ensuing data revealed potentially dangerous levels of smoke particulate in the air that could lead to health hazards — especially during the winter months, according to county Supervisor Mark Stone.

“I think the data shows that something needs to be done in the valley,” said Stone, whose district includes the San Lorenzo Valley. “The (data gathered) on the particulate matter was pretty alarming.”

According to Supervising Air Quality Planner Amy Clymo, the new rule would designate the San Lorenzo Valley as a Smoke Sensitive Area, allowing for region-specific changes to the district’s rules.

“Something needs to be done,” Stone said. “One of the areas where the particulate matter was extremely high was at the schools.”

Under the new rules, residents in the San Lorenzo Valley would not be allowed to burn yard waste under any circumstances on parcels smaller than one acre.

Also, no more than two waste fires in each of the Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, Felton, and Zayante fire districts, and areas covered by Cal Fire, would be allowed each day, Clymo said.

“We’re proposing to only allow two burns per day, per fire district,” she said. “That’s 10 total per day — it’s just broken up by fire district.”

Limiting the number of daily fires was one of the reasons to extend the district-wide burn season, so people could find a time to do their burning, Clymo said.

The permits required for burning would be free for the first year, up to July 21, 2013.

After that, “there might be a fee imposed,” Clymo said.


Enforcing the law

Enforcement of the potential new rules would be determined once the board’s and public’s concerns and ideas are taken fully into consideration, said Teresa Sewell, a compliance division supervisor at the air pollution control district.  

“A lot of that is going to be discussed after the board votes,” she said. “We haven’t finalized the direction (of enforcement).”

Sewell said that the intent is to have an increased enforcement presence that would be based on outreach. She stressed that no plans have yet been finalized.

“It’s really based on our outreach and how much outreach we’ve done,” she said. “Once we get a better understanding of the board, then we’ll make a decision.”

According to Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Mike Gilroy, the district would step up enforcement in the San Lorenzo Valley. But need-to-comply notices would more likely than tickets for illegal burns during the initial weeks of the new rules, he said, suggesting some grace period would be allowed.

“I think the important thing is that we’re working hard to communicate the changes that are being made,” he said. “We would try to determine if (the homeowners) were aware of the changes.”

Gilroy said that district officials have already been to three community events in the San Lorenzo Valley to raise awareness about the smoke hazards. He said the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“There seems to be a critical mass of people that want to see these changes take place,” he said.

Gilroy added that the district is working with Santa Cruz County to bring back the free green waste disposal service at the Ben Lomond Transfer Station to provide residents with an alternative to burning.

“We’re working out the details of that right now,” he said, adding that he hoped to have the program in place by October or November. 

The public hearing regarding the new rules is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the board’s chambers at 24580 Silver Cloud Court in Monterey.

Stone encouraged residents to make themselves aware of the upcoming changes and to voice concerns to the district.

“We generally have very good air quality in Santa Cruz County,” Stone said. “(The San Lorenzo Valley) is the one area that’s been a challenge.”

For information: 647-9411 or www.mbuapcd.org.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
He who breathes here
September 10, 2012
i applaud the new outdoor burn rules being crafted!

As a long time valley resident and an asthmatic, I look forward to

better air quality.

Free green waste disposal is key to this working out ok.

I have been paying out the nose to take truck loads to the transfer station for years, in an effort to spare the air and all our lungs.
Bryce Ramirez
September 14, 2012
Did you have an opportunity to submit public comment?
MS in BD
September 09, 2012
It's easy sit back in a council room and try to solve a problem with a simple dictate, but what about the problems caused by the solution? Namely, what are those of us with large properties, trying to keep our land fire-safe, supposed to do with the piles of combustible material? The county certainly has no plans to haul it away. I would haul it myself if there was someplace to take it that didn't charge for materials that can be composted.

And, yeah, you bet they have their eyes on the wood burning stoves!
Carli S
September 10, 2012
If Stone's office and the Monterey Pollution District had conducted real honest outreach, this might not have been met with grumbling. Everyone wants breathable air in the valley and many of these measures are necessary. They could have started a positive movement with everyone on board.

So now when they do move to tighten regulations on wood-burning stoves (which they are going to do), there is going to be mistrust and serious pushback. Especially if there is not attempt at sincere public input.

Like happened here.

Lompico Rick
September 08, 2012
Here we go...Agenda 21. Next they will tell us no wood burning stoves for our heat. The environmental activists have made enough noise for the Air Pollution Control District to start this. The County Supervisor for SLV goes along with them.

More government bureaucracy to enforce the rules, with fines to justify their existence.

I do not remember voting on this. Maybe it is a United Nations rule they are enforcing...?
Susie Estis
September 08, 2012
Why are we finding out about a public comment scenario after the time for public comment closes?

Who's running the show here?

Who does Mark Stone talk to in the valley? Who are his constituents?
Bill Smallman
September 08, 2012
Dry and Hot

I'm not a fan of air pollution or increased regulations, but seems to me that the politicians and bureaucrats on this issue need to consider the fact that when wood burns dry and hot, the amount of smoke is drastically reduced to such a degree that perhaps no regulations should apply to those who cut, pile and tarp yard waste before a winter time burn, and also those who have an efficient wood stove with stacked, dry, and hard firewood.
RK in BL
September 08, 2012
The problem will be in HOW they decide who is in compliance and who isn't. But Bill there is no indication that any pending legislation is going to be based on anything rational.
Eric Rubaker
September 08, 2012
Lots of us have more modern EPA certified stoves and i spend a good part of my time,cutting, splitting and drying what I use. I never smoke my neighbors out of their houses.

Anyway, you know Stone is reading this. Glad I never voted for him. Thanks for putting us in the loop of decisions that affect us. Your hidden agenda is obvious as always. Good job on the plastic bag bandwagon, too!
Bill Smallman
September 08, 2012
I just happened to go to a meeting where there was a gentlemen from the EPA speaking on this issue, and in all fairness this article really missed a lot of the ways in which they want to solve this problem. They are going to educate and encourage low smoke burning methods, but since I know that this is going to be a big issue in the valley that it is really important on how they implement new regulations involve the public more in the process.
I am Greg
September 17, 2012
I met with one of the guys from this group at the booth they had at the Mountain Faire and he NEVER said anything about all these restrictions. He told me that they'd be implementing a permit system and that you'd have to go to the fire station to get a permit. He also admitted that the sensors they had were only in three places in the valley and that they really needed more to be effective. He never implied that the air quality folks would be making such draconian changes so quickly. I find it disappointing that the Press Banner published this article the day the responses are due, and I wonder if that was a tactic used by the air quality group to minimize the negative feedback from this.
RK in BL
September 08, 2012
A couple of thought come to mind. The first is why Mark Stone has such little disregard for connecting to the people of the San Lorenzo Valley and how I hope the next supervisor has more appropriate connections to us ALL.

Smoke can get bad here in the winter when there is little rain or wind to clean out the smoke accumulation. By some accounts as many as 80% of households use wood-burning stoves or fireplaces for their primary source of heat. Yes, this particular move is about outdoor burning, and it would be a better written rule change if it addressed broader issues, but then we won't have an opportunity to help with that message because we weren't given the opportunity to submit public comment due to Stone's late notice.

Stone and his small constituency DO wish to control indoor stove or fireplace burning (and a whole bunch of other stuff). They've said so and realize that the first step is outdoor burning.

So, yes smoke is an issue to take a look at, but it sure would've been nice to have been included in the conversation.
Jefferson Adams
September 07, 2012
It is now September 7 Friday evening. Why are we just hearing this from Supervisor Mark Stone's office AFTER the ability to make public comment?

Because he has a very narrow perspective of who he reaches out to in the San Lorenzo Valley that's why.

Not OK.
Eric Rubaker
September 07, 2012
I agree. Plus, it is obvious the so called board is going to be telling us when we can burn wood in our fireplaces and stoves.

I'm sure that later they will be going after our emergency generators and gas powered tools.

Bay Area Air Quality Board is already pushing everyone around on the other side of the hill.

This is not going to go well for the SLV folks who depend on wood to keep warm and those who can't afford propane or NG.
I am Greg
September 17, 2012
EVERYONE should go to this meeting and provide public comment!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 - 1:30 P.M.

24580 Silver Cloud Court, Board Room, 3rd Floor, Monterey, California

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