Local opinion columnists

Spare us from Spare the Air

By From page A9 | January 26, 2014

This winter’s chilly nights lend themselves to lighting a warm fire in the hearths in our homes. Unfortunately, fireplace-loving citizens in western Solano County have been officially banned from exercising their chimney for the majority of the past month. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Winter Spare the Air program is the culprit.

The district has a program whereby it declares a Spare the Air day based on a set of air quality criteria, which then encourages people to voluntarily minimize activities that create air pollution. On the surface, this seems benign, but wood-burning activities are singled out for rigid enforcement. The air district utilizes a policy of issuing tickets to all wood-burning activities, including those scofflaws who dare utilize their fireplaces for warmth on “unapproved” days.

A compelling argument could be made to crack down on folks who are burning piles of dead trees and mixed lumber, or recreating Burning Man in the dead of winter; but for basic residential fireplaces, this seems heavy-handed and overreaching. If a fireplace is your only source of heat, you will need to prove that when fighting the citation. Yes, that is correct; you will need to prove your innocence that you are not a flaming eco-terrorist.

To support the enforcement of this program, a small army of taxpayer-funded “monitors” scour portions of our county, researching the most egregious criminals infesting our society. Their findings are logged into a “wood smoke database” maintained to monitor these hooligans. However, they are merciful: if you are caught, you can attend Wood Smoke Awareness School . . . once. After that, violators face a $100 ticket, upward of $500 if they are a repeat offender.

If preventing and minimizing pollutants is the underlying goal, what about cigarette smoking? Many carcinogens are emitted from the business end of a cancer stick. Will monitors cruise our streets, aggressively handing out penalties? Should we ban drive-thrus? All those cars queued up as they wait for their triple mochachinos and double-cheesy bacon burgers spew out gobs of pollutants. Those consumers should park their cars and walk into the establishment. They would “spare the air” and get some exercise in the same trip.

Let’s not ignore the irony of paying people to drive around to investigate these “violations.” These monitors should lead by example and travel around our communities on bicycles, or at least take public transportation. Otherwise, they are just part of the problem.

For those heartless polluters who must have their fireplaces, cigarettes or drive-thru treats, can they purchase offsetting credits? They magically work for factories in California and there is plenty of empirical evidence that shows that shelling out cash for a permit to engage in unhealthy activity completely nullifies any side effects of said activity. Perhaps we can just charge it to our FasTrak account, and call it SmokStak.

Perhaps most baffling and frustrating to citizens is that our neighbors to the east, in Vacaville and beyond, are not bound by these rigid policies. Since their air is in a different district, they are covered by a separate set of guidelines. Apparently, air flow observes arbitrary boundaries created by bureaucracies. Perhaps Fairfield residents should hop in their cars and drive to Vacaville to enjoy a warm stove.

Beyond all these inconsistencies and logical fallacies, a fundamental question remains: Where is the mandate from the people that empowers this agency (and so many other acronym-laced agencies) to micromanage our lives? If we the people wish to contain, minimize or even abolish this program or this agency, what recourse do we have?

Unelected organizations consume our tax dollars and dole out numerous policies and laws with minimal input from the citizenry. This is a symptom of nonrepresentation; will we the people remain complacent?

Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at [email protected]

Brian Thiemer


Discussion | 6 comments

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  • CD BrooksJanuary 26, 2014 - 7:31 am

    Many years ago while driving through Reno, we decided this was the future of wood burning, soon it would be banned. We removed our fireplace, replaced it with an electric for ambience and we use our heater to warm the house. Were we being environmentally friendly? No way. We were being practical and found a way to make it work for us. There are good arguments from both sides. The fact is those using their fireplaces are the “easy targets.” The laws are written then forgotten and unenforced. All of a sudden, there is a grant or subsidy pegged for specific enforcement, and then they go after the “little guy.” If you’ll notice on the “spare the air” days, there are admonitions for using small equipment, driving unnecessarily and of course burning. You don’t see “Eco-Cops” sitting by drive-through venues. You don’t see landscapers harassed and cited. You certainly don’t see smoker’s accosted and told to snuff out their butts right? Of course you don’t! So there is zero enforcement for those contributing in large part to the problem but they’re too difficult to bother. Or they’re making a living and we certainly don’t want to interrupt them! Imagine these folks fighting their citation in court. Good luck with that. I don’t like the air quality down south. I didn’t care for it on our very recent trip to Oregon. And I certainly don’t want to see it here. Ever. But if we’re going to be “fair” and have rules, one very small segment of our society should not be forced to carry the load. Remember “clothesline cops? Yeah, we didn’t need them either.

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  • Glen FaisonJanuary 26, 2014 - 12:41 pm

    @CD Brooks: I agree that selective enforcement is always a problem. If the rules are invoked, they must be enforced uniformly. As for the notion of going after the little guys, I refer you to my Sunday column. Within the column I mention the ban on fireplaces in new homes and the restrictions placed on mega dairies in the Valley. I hardly consider housing developers and mega-dairy operators "little guys" or "easy targets." Yes, in the Central Valley it started with the little things such as voluntary no-burn days -- which we see in the neighboring Yolo-Solano air district. Then it moved to mandatory no-burn days for fireplaces and such. When that wasn't enough to meet federal standards, bigger targets came into play. The same thing is playing out here, now. The air district is picking the low-hanging fruit and hoping that's enough. I address in the comments the issue of big-rigs rolling through the state's various air basins. I wanted to include that point in the actual column, but it was already at length. I'm happy another commenter brought it up so I could chime in on that point in the comments. Kudos on seeing the writing on the wall in terms of fireplaces and making adjustments that work for you. I enjoy a nice fire in the fireplace as much as the next guy, but I prefer clean air.

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  • The MisterJanuary 26, 2014 - 8:46 am

    What? Are you telling me that unelected bureaucrats make law, enforce law, judge law, and punish law-breakers? What the heck do we need politicians for, local cops for, and judges for? If the politicians, cops and judges aren't there to protect the people from all enemies, foreign and domestic, then why in the heck to we need them. Let's save our tax money and protect ourselves from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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  • JazzAzzJanuary 26, 2014 - 9:01 am

    I've said it before and I will say it again, and over and over and over. DO NOT LET THESE Goose Stepping N_zis take your rights away. Yes they may have been appointed by people we voted for, as Glen said in his opinion piece, but they were not directly appointed or elected BY US, the people, indirectly yes. So if you continue to let them walk all over our rights, next they WILL TRY TO GET THE AUTHORITY come summer time to tell us when we can run our mowers and other small equipment, (Landscapers, sorry you'll just have to find another way to make a living). Can you say, "Would you like fries with that??" Or they will try to say we can't drive wherever, whenever we want. Stand your ground now. Sure I agree with some real hazy no burn days, but we should not be lumped in with the rest of the East Bay Area. Much of that morning haze is just that, morning haze, mist, etc. that will burn off. So my advice still stands on, "No burn days," do what YOU WANT. It is YOUR RIGHT!!!!! Go outside and look around, use YOUR COMMON SENSE, for OUR AREA, not Fremont's, San Jose's, Oakland's, etc. etc. We need LOCAL, Solano monitoring. So as I said before, regarding the Bay Area air Resource Board, IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE, and that goes for any citations also. Send them back with, "KISS THIS, " written on them. I still see no way for them to collect. Win the lottery, maybe. Have a state tax refund coming, maybe. Tie it to your property taxes?????? OK, then just screw the owner, landlord, if it is a rental. Get hauled into court, and have a judgement issued against you???? Heck, you didn't pay the fine the first time, so just flip the court off and refuse to pay it again. IT IS OUR RIGHT to use what we have PAID FOR!!!!!!!! As far as the editor, Glen's opinion, let him move back up 3,000' to the mountains :-).

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  • Glen FaisonJanuary 26, 2014 - 12:25 pm

    @JazzAzz: I didn't live 3,000 feet up into the Sierra Nevada, although I drove up there from time to time, and higher up still. Beautiful country, but I couldn't afford the real estate so it was the Valley floor for me. As for moving back to the Valley: I like it fine here. My wife and I actually love it here. One of the big attractions for us wasn't the proximity to San Francisco and the museums, entertainment and such, but the blue skies and fresh air. I suggest you spend a summer in Hanford (near Fresno and where I spent the vast majority of my early career) -- or simply an August -- before you discount the state's efforts to comply with federal clear air standards. Now for the geographic shape of our air district: That's set by the state, using whatever criteria it used to draw the lines. Solano County is covered by two air districts, so Fairfield has one set of restrictions that Vacaville does not on certain days. We can certainly petition the state board to redraw the lines, or petition or regional board to only call Spare the Air days in those portions of our district that hit the unhealthy range and leave the rest of the district at peace. We can pressure our local elected officials to do the same, and if they won't do so, and enough people feel the same way on this matter, replace them come election time with those who will fight for this issue. Now I'm going to open a can of worms: You feel strongly that we should break the law and burn wood in our fireplaces, if we wish to do so, on Spare the Air days. It's about controlling how we live our lives, correct? How far does that way of thinking go? Can I drive 100 mph on Interstate 80 because the roadway is pretty clear at 2 a.m.? It gets me where I want to go faster than some arbitrary speed limit. Faster freeway speeds work in Germany, for example. Why not here? How about petty theft? I want something so I take it. It's a misdemeanor -- potentially just a ticket. Is that OK? My point is, if we do not like the law, we should obey it and work to change it, not break it to make a point.

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  • JazzAzzJanuary 26, 2014 - 3:23 pm

    You are talking apple and oranges as far as I am concerned, burning wood, or a GREEN CLEAN BURN Duraflame type logs, that they also ban on, "No burn days (Totally insane IMO) VS endangering others lives driving 100 mph on the freeway, etc. etc. My burning in the fireplace that I legally ordered and bought for our enjoyment in our home is not endangering anyone else. Those with breathing difficulties can stay indoors or wear an allergy type mask outdoors. I am not talking about burning on obviously unclear days, but to be lumped in with the rest of the East Bay, when they may have poor air quality, and we do not, due to our nice Suisun breezes on most days in also totally insane, and that is where I draw the line and see a purpose for, "Civil Disobedience," in this case!!!!

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