A primal part of human life, an open fire on the family hearth, may soon go up in smoke in new homes in Berkeley.
Hoping to put a damper on air pollution, Mayor Shirley Dean has proposed a ban on new fireplaces and many kinds of wood-burning stoves in residential and commercial buildings.
The ordinance, set to go before the City Council tomorrow, would apply also to existing wood-burning devices affected by remodeling. Several other cities already have such restrictions.
"I think it's the future," Dean said.
It does not mean that mortals are giving fire back to the gods, however. Gas-burning appliances would be exempt, as would existing fireplaces and wood-burning stoves that are not being renovated. Also exempt are wood stoves that meet stringent standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In fact, the effect on Berkeley would be small, considering that few new buildings are constructed in the city. Still, the proposal is expected to kindle heated debate.
"It's a kind of hot-button issue," acknowledged Dean aide Barbara Gilbert. "People might say, 'They're going to take our fireplaces away.'"
As a result, Dean's proposal calls for a 45-day review of such an ordinance by several city commissions, followed by a public hearing before the council takes action.
The move comes after a December vote by directors of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District proposing such an ordinance for all local governments to enact.
Tiny particles from wood smoke cause coughing, irritation and possible long-term lung damage, said Luna Salaver, spokeswoman for the air district. Smoke can be especially harmful to children, the elderly and people with lung problems such as asthma and emphysema, she said.
The air district received 133 complaints about smoke from indoor fireplaces last year, but it has also received ``quite negative'' public reaction to the wood-burning restrictions, she said.
"Part of it is the longtime humankind experience of having a warm, cozy fire in your living space," Salaver said. "Also, it's definitely an issue of some people not wanting the government to dictate what they do in their homes."
Berkeley may be among the first to consider the new ordinance proposed by the air district, but it is not the Bay Area pioneer in the field. Petaluma is credited with blazing the trail to wood-burning restrictions with its 1992 ordinance, a blueprint for the air district's model. Los Gatos and Saratoga also have wood-burning restrictions.
In fact, it is getting harder all around the country to keep the home fires burning. Many governments have some form of control on wood-burning, and some localities have even stricter laws than those proposed in Berkeley.
The city of Denver and some areas around Lake Tahoe, for example, forbid any wood burning on "dirty air" days. The Bay Area air district is developing a similar mandatory law.
An earlier proposal to strengthen the model ordinance being considered in Berkeley would have banned fireplaces in existing homes when they are sold, but it failed after concerted lobbying by realtors, said Bob Holmes, director of governmental relations for the Marin Realtors Association.
The industry that makes products for fireplaces and wood stoves recognizes the need to reduce pollution, said Rusty Savard, board member of the Northern California Nevada Hearth Products Association.
"We basically all share the same air, eventually," said Savard, owner of a Redding store that sells pellet stoves and other wood-burning devices designed to meet cleaner-air standards.
Besides, Savard acknowledged, "the more regulations come out and the more people have to update, the more sales we make."
Dean said she was inspired in part by recent reports showing that the Bay Area's air is getting dirtier. The quarter-century trend toward cleaner air has started to reverse itself during the past four years, although air quality now is still much better than it was in the 1960s.
©1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A13
Berkeley Council Balks At Mayor's Fireplace Ban
Thursday, January 14, 1999
Berkeley -- The Berkeley City Council has delayed action on Mayor Shirley Dean's proposal to ban more fireplaces and wood- burning stoves until city commissions can review the ordinance.
Using a model ordinance proposed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in December, Dean's plan would ban new fireplaces, fireplaces involved in remodeling and new wood-burning stoves that do not meet strict federal air-quality standards.
The measure would have allowed a 45-day review period by various city commissions and a public hearing before council action. But some council members questioned the claims regarding dangers of wood smoke and whether the limited ban would have much effect in a city where little new construction occurs.
The council voted 6 to 1, with two abstentions, to remove the time limit on review by city commissions, a move viewed as delaying council consideration for several months.
©1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A13
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