Bonfires vs. air quality

Growing up in San Diego, the beach was like a second home to me. I learned to swim the bay next to the Silver Strand. Before I could drive, my buddy and I would hitch a ride with my older brother and hang out at Ocean Beach while he worked at grocery story. Once I got my 1968 Mustang, beach trips along the coast from Coronado to Del Mar were routine – as were bonfires once it got dark.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District is considering a ban on bonfires at the beach. This is inspired by the same controls approved two years ago on wood-burning fireplaces between November and February – the months when a crackling fire sounds like a good idea.
The district says the 1.4 million fireplaces and other wood-burning devices emit an average of 6 tons of PM 2.5 a day. That’s more than fine particulate matter than generated by all the power plants in the Southland.
The proposed limits on bonfires has sparked a panic in beach communities who are concerned about the economic impact. Matthew Harper, mayor pro tem of Huntington Beach, wrote to The Desert Sun urging us to urge Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit to vote against the amendment to Rule 444. Benoit serves on the district board.
Huntington Beach has 200 fire rings, most of which have been there for 60 years. The city stands to lose $1 million in revenue from parking fees and the sale of bonfire supplies.
“The bonfires that warm us from the winds that blow cold salt air up and over the beaches is an experience that should be enjoyed today and allowed for future generations,” Harper writes.
While this issue is being debated as a coastal issue, the Salton Sea Recreation Area has 2,000 campsites and almost all of them have fire rings.
With fireplaces, the Air Quality Management District offers $125 discounts for homeowners to convert wood-burning fireplaces with units that burn natural gas. That wouldn’t quite work on the beach.
The Desert Sun is considering an editorial on the subject. What do you think? Should we urge Supervisor Benoit to oppose the ban? I want the air we breathe to be as clean as possible. But I hate to think a world where we can never again roast marshmallows at a bonfire with family and friends on the beach.

Soda pop tax

Monday is my day to scout editorial ideas to pitch to The Desert Sun editorial board on Tuesdays. I review the previous week’s worth of papers, scroll the Associated Press and other wires and check on other websites, including newspapers. And I read the latest emails from the League of California Cities and the California Taxpayers Association.
CalTax is a rich source of ideas, often leading to good topics that have yet to blossom in print. For instance, Friday’s report says the Senate Governance and Finance Committee has approved a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks. That adds up to $1.28 on a gallon of soda. I found this while sipping a Diet Coke.
Considering the reaction to New York City’s attempt to ban Big Gulps and judge’s ruling striking down the ban, I expect this could develop into a quite a talker.
At the hearing last Wednesday, doctors said sodas are the primary reason that many young people are overweight and have health problems. The tax is meant to reduce consumption of non-diet sodas. It also assumes many won’t be able to resist and designates the revenue toward programs to fight obesity.
The Teamsters Union showed up to oppose the bill, because their members make these products. CalTax quotes Sen. Jim Beall, a Democrat who supports the bill, wondering why we should tax just soft drinks. Why not sugar itself?
“In regards to sugar, there are many ways to sin,” Beall said.
As usual, I can see both sides. Childhood obesity is a big problem in the Coachella Valley. If a gallon of soda costs more than $1 more, maybe more kids will learn to like the unleaded variety. But it also smacks of social engineering by the government, the kind conservatives loathe.
Tell us what you think. Email your thought to You might help us craft our editorial.

Sign cutters on the border

In researching for Sunday’s editorial on immigration reform, I came across an Associated Press story with a Campo dateline.
I know Campo. It’s a small town in east San Diego County on the border. My mother taught high school there.
The AP story by Elliot Spagat is about a “sign cutter,” a Border Patrol employee who looks for dusty footprints, torn cobwebs, broken twigs and overturned pebbles to track human activity. The cutter, Richard Gordon, can tell if migrants trying to cross the border had turned back – or at least make an educated guess. He’s been doing this for 16 years.
This is important in the debate over immigration reform because of the insistence by many members of Congress that Step 1 is securing the border. How do we measure that success? Sensors, cameras and radar drones may help, but skilled sign cutters like Gordon are a big part of the equation.
A recent Government Accountability Office report cites Border Patrol data from fiscal 2011, the latest available, that 61 percent of estimated illegal crossings on the southern border resulted in capture, 23 percent turn back to Mexico and 16 percent got away.
Of the 85,467 who got away, 70,980 (83 percent) were counted by sign-cutting, with nearly all the rest from cameras and plain sightings.
When Mom was teaching back in the 1970s, a group her students were from Tecate – the Mexican side. They would climb through a hole in the fence and catch the school bus every morning. I went to a wedding reception for one of the girls in the Tecate beer factory.
Years later, a friend of mine bought the Alpine newspaper and broke the “big story” that Mexican children had been getting a free education for years.
I asked Mom about it.
She shrugged. “They’re kids. They needed an education. Every kid needs an education.”
I agree with the lawmakers who believe a secure border is an essential part of managing immigration. I like the notion that sign cutters doing the hard work in dusty shrubs along the border remain a part of the process. And I’m excited about the prospect of a system that treats those who come across the border to do the work Americans won’t do with more respect.
But I can’t stop thinking about Mom’s students from long ago.

We have a Pulitzer winner

Back in the 1980s, in my first stint as an editorial page editor at the now-defunct Times-Advocate in Escondido, we had a tradition when the Pulitzer Prizes were announced in the spring. We’d see who won for best editorial cartoonist and add him or her to our lineup.
Things aren’t quite so flexible today, partly because most cartoonists are locked up in syndicates. You can rarely choose just one. But it turns out we now access to this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
We get cartoonists from Gannett, of course, and Creators News Service and Cagle Cartoons. Sack joined Creators a few years ago and switched to Cagle a few months ago. I use cartoons from Steve Breen of U-T San Diego most often, but Sack is a regular.
The Pulitzer judges said Sack stood apart because of his “vivid, distinctive cartoons that used creative metaphors for high-impact results.”
Sack told the Star Tribune newsroom, “My job description is simple. I read the paper, crack a joke, and draw a picture.”
I try to choose a mix of cartoons from all sides of the political spectrum, to find ones that are provocative without being offensive. But to be honest, if one makes me laugh out loud it moves to the front of the line.
Congratulations, Steve.

Pressure cookers as WMDs?

It’s hard to believe that a pressure cooker can be described as a weapon of mass destruction. Guess is all depends on the ingredients.
Dad has always been a proponent of pressure cookers. I never got the hang of the stove-top models, but last year I bought a Cuisinart electric pressure cooker. It’s one handy machine. I cooked a brisket on Sunday, and it can prepare a perfect artichoke in seven minutes – after it warms up.
However, the 6-liter pressure cookers apparently used by the suspected Boston Marathon bombers contained low-grade explosives, BBs, nails and a hobby fuse. They were tragically effective.
Read our full editorial in Wednesday’s Desert Sun and at

One can only imagine

When I was younger, I regularly ran 10ks and half-marathons. I never did a marathon because I could never carve the recommended training time out of my schedule. But I remember dozens of moments of personal triumph and the wonderful feeling of released endorphins.

In more than 100 road races, nothing ever exploded at the finish line.

Had I been in Monday’s Boston Marathon, I would have among those crossing the finish line after four hours, a candidate for mayhem.

My heart goes out to the victims, their families and all the participants who must be shaken to the core.

One local runner, Carlos

Carlos Carballo finishes first in the 9th annual 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day 2007 in Palm Desert. Marilyn Chung/The Desert Sun

Carballo of Cathedral City, had a world-class, 14th-place finish of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 5 seconds.

His reaction: “Now in couple of years when I tell my kids about it, I’ll remember feeling so good, then so bad.”

Dorner’s last stand

Most people probably look at the conclusion of Tuesday’s dramatic shootout with accused cop killer Christopher Jordan Dorner in the San Bernardino Mountains with a sense of relief.
If that was him in the burned out cabin in Angelus Oaks, a huge burden has been lifted from the Southern California law enforcement community and all of us who strongly support them. But it’s also hard to cheer anybody’s death, even a killer.
For me, this touches home in many ways. I’ve been skiing in the Big Bear Valley for more than 40 years. I spent Christmas there with my family at my dad’s place. (He was safe in his La Quinta home this week, thank goodness.) I usually take Highway 38 – which passes through Angelus Oaks – on my trips up the mountain. Going up 330 and cutting across on 18 is about 10 minutes faster to get to Snow Summit, but there are many more curves.
Tuesday morning, I wrote an editorial praising the law enforcement community for its efforts to protect the 50 or more people threatened by Dorner. They had no choice. This guy was well-trained, well-armed and full of hate. We also planned to support the $100,000 contribution to the $1 million reward proposed by Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit for information that might lead to Dorner’s capture. But with the standoff unfolding, we had to hold that editorial and go with one planned for the next day.
My youngest daughter was concerned because she has friends who are San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies. Sure enough, one of the two deputies allegedly shot by Dorner was the husband of a friend. Fortunately, he was not the one who was mortally wounded. Her friend texted late last night that he was out of surgery and in stable condition. He’ll survive.
I share the sentiments of Joyce Reed, Big Bear Lake Resort Association board president, who sent out this statement this morning: “Our hearts go out to all law enforcement that put their lives on the line to protect Big Bear. We are especially mournful for the deputy who lost his life during this tragic incident, and we send our deepest, heartfelt sympathy to the deputy’s family.”

Hurray for Mr. Bingo

It may be true everywhere, but Coachella Valley seems to love its dogs more than most communities. Our Sunday letter of the week was about a stray puppy found on the streets of Joshua Tree. The couple who adopted him named him Mr. Bingo.

Here’s a follow up from Rachel Druten of Palm Desert, author of the letter:

“You have made Mr. Bingo a celebrity, but he is handling it well. When my husband went to the dog park this morning someone had laminated and posted the article from The Desert Sun, “Mr. Bingo Gives Back,” on the gate. Mr. Bingo is not letting the fame go to his head. He is still the same happy, humble, tail-wagging, slurpy kisses pup as ever.”

Try our new poll question switched to new software for our daily poll question.
Our hope is that this new format will work with all the browsers out there – Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc. And it has some nifty features. You can see not just percentages, but if you hover over the bar you can see the number of votes for each response.
Unlike our previous poll, the polls are archived so you can see results from earlier polls. And you can still vote days after the poll has appeared in print.
Try it!

Welcome back, pilots

Working across the street from the Palm Springs International Airport, getting a glimpse of airplanes coming and going is a perk – especially the Navy’s F-18s screaming past.
In 2011, when Rep. Mary Bono Mack brokered a deal with the Department of Defense to take the training elsewhere, I was a little disappointed. But I also understood the concerns of those who lived under the flight path. The jets did interrupt editorial board meetings on occasion, but nobody here complained.
I moderated one of our online debates on the issue, and it was a persistent source of letters to the editor.
In fact, the issue surfaced in a letter to the editor, when a tourist wrote that she was interrupted while trying to relax by her hotel pool. This brought a flood of outraged responses from patriots who described the jets as “the sound of freedom.”
On Friday, when news broke that training would resume, it was like flipping a switch for letter writers who miss the jets. You can read some of those on Tuesday’s Opinion page. One even uses that lovely cliché.
You can also read a Valley Voice column by Bill Borden, an occasional contributor from Rancho Mirage, who says the jets expected to arrive here son, T-45 Goshawk (photo), aren’t nearly as loud as the F-18s, “a supersonic, 1,305-mph, carrier capable, attack fighter/bomber with a maximum takeoff weight of 56,000 pounds, two GE engines with a range of 2,000 miles.”
He calls the T-45 the F-18’s baby brother. It is a trainer that flies at 645 mph, weighs a mere 13,000 pounds, and has a range of only 805 miles.
Maybe it’s the best of both worlds – not so loud that it will chase your poodle under the bed, but useful tools to keep our pilots sharp. It’s good news for Atlantic Aviation where they can refuel. Bringing back pilots to our cozy desert is great news. I hope to see them on Palm Canyon Drive at get a chance to thank them for their service.