Solstice bonfire reignites debate over Ocean Beach

Every year a bonfire on Ocean Beach inaugurates the first day of summer in The City.

But this year the same bonfire may also kick off the last summer of legal burns on the beach.

For years neighbors complained that the beach is trashed with nails and beer bottles after bonfires. There have even been some bonfires that have gotten out of hand, with people vandalizing nearby cars and homes.

“Our beach is disgusting,” said Buffy Maguire, who lives near the beach and owns a café across the street. She said she doesn’t want to see beach bonfires banned, but feels the few groups that get out of hand be better regulated. “We all kind of want the same thing, we just have different ways of getting there.”

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area has been trying to control fires at the beach since 2002, when the San Francisco Commission on the Environment asked the department to clean up the beach and better manage bonfires. In an effort to comply and to respond to neighbor complaints of too much smoke blowing into their homes, fires were restricted to the beach area between Lincoln Way and Fulton Street.

“We concluded our goals were not met at that point,” said Rudy Everson, the Ocean Beach Project Manager for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “We had not gotten the beach to a clean and safe position to meet the city and county’s request.”

Beach cleanup after bonfires cost the Golden Gate National Recreation Area $90,000 in 2005, according to a release. The state of the beach prompted the examination of an all-out ban. The department held public comment for four months about the proposed ban and received a mixed response from thousands of letters, according to Everson.

To groups such as Reclaim, which has held the summer solstice bonfire for 25 years, their bonfire is an important ceremony, according to George Franklin, a Reclaim member.

“All around the world today is solstice and its something we take part in with people all around the world,” he said. “We are going to be there regardless [of a ban]. This is a religious freedom issue.”

The San Francisco Police Department was not planning to have extra forces patrolling the beach on Wednesday, according to Lt. Kurt Bruneman. He said officers are in contact with the groups that regularly hold bonfires on the beach, and they usually only have problems from unorganized high school students.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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