Log Burning Fireplaces Banned In Berkeley

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Famous for its opposition to war and capital punishment, the Berkeley, Calif. government's latest target is the log-burning fireplace. The Berkeley City Council has voted to ban the fireplaces from all new homes and is requiring new restaurants using wood-burning ovens and grills to install pollution-control equipment.

While several other Bay Area communities have banned the log-burning fireplaces in new buildings, Berkeley is the first to target the restaurant ovens and grills.

The resolution may yield only minimal results, however. Officials in Berkeley have acknowledged that housing construction in the built-up area is rare.

"The city of Berkeley is entirely built up. It would only apply to new construction in places where old buildings were removed," Nabil al-Hadithy, manager of Berkeley's Toxics Management Division, told CNSNews.com. "It accomplishes very little in terms of residential, but it does set a precedent."

Activist Jami Caseber, who led the drive for the ordinance, called it "the first step to controlling or curtailing residential wood burning."

Caseber told the Los Angeles Times he would have preferred restrictions on existing fireplaces, but the new law "was the best I could do" because of opposition from "conservatives."

Michael Gersick, a lobbyist for the California Hearths and Home Association, said the policy is foolish. "I love the tempest and tumult of Berkeley. But God help you if you want to act responsibly and expect Berkeley to confront a public policy issue using fact," he told the Times.

Gersick said his clients would have preferred an emissions limit for fireplaces rather than a ban in all new homes. "All we really want is a standard to meet," he said. Gersick and his clients have sued Palo Alto and San Jose over the issue.

He said his group did not plan to sue the city of Berkeley because the stakes are too low.

The ordinance requires pollution control equipment to be installed on each new oven and grill and will also require a permit from the city and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (AQMD).

Alice Waters, owner of a local restaurant, said she burns half a cord of oak and fig weekly in her grill and oven, which have no such pollution control devices.

"I am totally opposed," she said. "We've had a fundamental connection between fire and food since the beginning of time. Until we stop driving cars, I'd rather live in a world with wood-burning ovens," she said.

Al-Hadithy said this ordinance would set a precedent for other neighboring towns. "Air quality is a regional problem, not a city problem," he said. "It does set a precedent for communities in the outlying areas of the San Francisco Bay Area which have room to expand and are putting in ten or twenty thousand new units a year."

He said this could pressure them into adopting similar laws themselves. "They will then feel the power to go ahead and do it themselves," he said.

Gersick told the Times that prohibiting wood burning would be like banning gardeners to cut pollen.

"Fireplaces have been a symbol of the family since we lived in caves," Gersick said. "I'm not ready to let somebody else decide which of my domestic pleasures can be taken away from me without proof of harm."