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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Another bad idea from the air board

Uploaded: Mar 26, 2015
If you are looking for a classic case of bureaucratic over-reach, consider the Bay Area air board's latest brain child to forbid the sale of a home with a wood-burning fireplace or stove (yes, you can cook on some wood-burners).
The air board staff is floating a proposal that would require both homeowners and property owners to retrofit their homes or rentals before completing transactions to sell or rent their property. Owners would have the option of retrofitting fireplaces to burn natural gas or bricking over the chimney. It would effect about 1.4 million units.
Their goal is to further reduce airborne particulate matter during the winter cold season from Nov.1 to Feb. 28. The board has established its power to ban burning wood during the winter if they predict a temperature inversion in some areas. Notably, the number of unhealthy days has plummeted over the last 15 years from a high of 39 to 6 this year with just one "unhealthy: day in two of the last five years.
Across Bay Area counties, there were 3,739 complaints this year and just 155 violations.
We have an issue?
My friend David Stark, wearing his Bay East Realtor Association hat, had it right when he termed it as a "bad solution looking for a problem."
The more important issue is a policy one. Too often legislators, state and national, are passing laws and then leaving unelected bureaucrats to devise the regulations and implement the laws. The disaster that is Obamacare is a federal example, while the wide authority given to the air boards (state and regional) are state examples.
The governor appoints the state air board, while the regional boards are made up of elected officials from counties and cities.
In short, they serve, but do not face voters in their regional roles. It provides relative anonymity and virtually no accountability to the electorate. When did we see a local mayor or supervisor defeated for re-election because of their votes on a regional board?
Remember it is the regional transit board that is responsible for the $6 billion new Bay Bridge and what is shaping up as a real estate fiasco with the ill-advised purchase of an office building in San Francisco. So happens that one of the valley's supervisors, Scott Haggerty, serves on both the transportation and air boards, while Supervisor Nate Miley, who represents Pleasanton, is an air board member along with San Ramon Councilman Dave Hudson.

Fresh and Easy, the small food market firm owned by a giant British supermarket chain, is realigning its business plan and closing seven Bay Area stores.
What interested me is that it is pulling out of several communities with demographics that retailers love. Among the stores closing are those in Danville, Pleasanton, and Walnut Creek. There is plenty of competition in these communities to be sure, but there's also an abundance of money for the right retail concepts.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

The air board state they are protecting the people with lung illness in the nine county bay area from smoke particulate.

The real story:

Ninety percent of lung cancer deaths and approximately 80-90 percent COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis)deaths in the San Francisco Bay Area are the result of tobacco, marijuana, and hashish smoking by those suffering from those illness's. (Source American Lung Association).

Those of us that have never smoked anything, but inhaled other peoples smoke, are dictated to stop wood burning in our residential homes in order to not cause undue suffering to those people that spent their entire lifetime abusing their lungs with tobacco products and illegal smoking junk.

The air board dictatorial agenda marches on.

Posted by Informed resident, a resident of another community,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:47 am

This article is spot on with one exception.

The member that is at the root of the problem is Contra Costa Supervisor, John Gioia.

He sits on BOTH the. Bay Area Air Quality board (BAAQMD) and the California Air Board (CARB). He has his own arrogant agenda and if he gets his way, this draconian law will be implemented. The public needs to wake up and retire him from his bully pulpit ASAP.

If exposed he will tuck his tail and run.

It is up the the journalists to lift the curtain of anonymity and expose the coward posing as the great OZ.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:10 am

Regarding Fresh and Easy - I go to the gym that shares that same parking lot and I'm amazed they've stayed open so long. Hardly any customers at all - ever.
I've been in the store a few times and was put off by the cold sparten atmosphere of the place. And no checkers! Everything is self-checkout which I don't mind when I have one or two items but a full basket is something else. If I'm paying to shop in their store do I have to scan and bag my own groceries? Not at Trader Joe's where I do most of my shopping.
I feel sorry for those who will lose their jobs in this process -that's the only sad part of the story.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:28 am

Think about your neighbors!

Web Link

A very cute solution...stop the whining....please.

Posted by JP, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:52 am

I personally do not think that something like this will fly. I don't have a problem with Spare The Air days as the wood burning affects neighbors, air quality, etc....but mandating people cannot sell their house without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to remove wood burning stoves...I think it might be illegal? It wreaks of lobbying between natural gas interests and the air boards. I have a hammer in my house...sure, it could be used for bad things or harm people if used irresponsibly...does that mean I can't sell my house if it has a hammer in it. I think at some point, you have to set guidelines, and go on faith that people will continue to educate themselves and behave properly. Get tougher enforcement on Spare The Air...increase the fines and will motivate.

Or how about just update State Building Codes to prevent new fireplaces (wood burning) to be built in the first place? That would seem more logical as then you are putting the burden on the local building departments. Is that going too far? (Sarcasm)


Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:08 pm

The Air Board seems to have a problem with woodstoves in particular. By definition a woodstove is a device for cooking that is fueled by wood. The BAAQMD states that there are 1.4 million of these stoves in the Bay Area. Really?...that is one woodstove for every 5 people living in the Bay Area. Where do they get this number from? To me only specialty restaurants and hippies foregoing modern civilization would be the majority of users. This total could be nowhere near 1.4 million.
Modern day humans have existed for over 5,000 years on Earth. 4,950 years where wood fires were the primary source of heating. Seems to me humanity has gotten along fine living with woodstoves and fireplaces. As we were all taught in school, the primary reason people live longer today is due to sanitation. Like Michael said above, the people most prone to medical episodes due to low levels of wood smoke are smokers who have already ruined their bodies.
Informed Resident - John Gioia graduated from Berkeley with a degree in Political Science....enough said.
I really don't like a neighborhood full of fireplace smoke, but what the BAAQMD and other state and local agencies are doing is creating a nanny state. If the BAAQMD doesn't think it is a good idea to burn wood, I think most people would get a clue and not start a fire. The BAAQMD certainly does not need to make rules and regulations that affect one's house just to ensure a smoker lives an extra 3 months.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:03 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

I'm not surprised the Fresh and Easy is closing. I haven't been there, but there are so many sources of good, fresh produce in this area, there's no need to go to another one. San Ramon and Danville have something like four or five Farmer's Markets a week. The local supermarkets have excellent produce too. It's not a matter of having the right demographic for Fresh and Easy, there's just too much competition here, which is great for those of us who like high quality fresh fruits and vegies.

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Michael Austin: I agree 100% with your comments! I have never smoked, and these liberals want me to give up my fireplace? Without a fireplace, I am more likely to have to run my heater more in the winter, using more energy, making us again more dependent on foreign countries for energy. I have a better idea for these liberals so worried about my fireplace: how about triple the cigarette tax, and use the revenue for environmental improvements, such as planting more trees, educating youth on dangers of smoking, etc....Liberals don't want that, as their core voters, inner city Democrats, smoke like trains... They are going after those who own homes with fireplaces, i.e. Republicans.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

The BAAQMD has scheduled a series of "workshops" for draft Regulation 6, Rule 3; Wood Burning Devices.

The "workshop" scheduled for Alameda County is April 09, 2015, 6-8 PM. Livermore City Hall, City Council Chambers, 1052 South Livermore Avenue.

I encourage everyone with an interest or a point of view to attend. There could be fireworks!

Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Interesting. Michael Austin complains about breathing other people's pot smoke, apparently in the belief that he will catch cancer from it. Last time I was exposed was at Outside Lands last year, but I think I dodged that bullet.

At the same time MA is outraged that anyone should question his God-given right to spew particulates and chemicals far and wide from his chimney, because fewer people will get cancer from that than from smoking. Of course, the smokers at least have some choice in the matter, unlike MA's neighbors. Gotta love the sense of entitlement enjoyed by the comfortable burghers of the San Ramon Valley.

Oh, and American? That "energy" you speak of is natural gas, which is produced right here in the US of A. "Liberals" tend to know stuff like that. But kudos to you for your overt call for class warfare against the less worthy. I hate it when people hide their true feelings, don't you?

So, Austin and Company, by all means, grab your pitchforks and your torches and storm the workshop! And make sure you don't make any effort to educate yourselves on any of those pesky "facts" and "research" which might not comport with your pre-existing opinions.

Web Link No! Don't look! Protect your ignorance!

Posted by industry, a resident of Vineyard Hills,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 5:37 pm

The representatives of BAAQMD have too much power and no accountability.

If they were really interested in air quality out here, they would not allow the gravel quarries and asphalt plants to continue to operate. You can see the clouds of dirt/dust going into the air and you can smell the asphalt plants (especially when they are producing these new rubberized asphalt batches). If you can smell it, that means it is putting particulate matter into the air. Since I have not noticed a fireplace but I have noticed the asphalt plant and seen the gravel pits from a distance, it is obvious that those plants are more harmful to the air than a fireplace. Oh, but those gravel quarries donate a lot to local political campaigns, especially at the county level, so they experience special treatment.

The only fair way to limit this would give a maximum amount of particulate matter in the air, no matter the cause. If you have a fireplace that has an insert with low emissions, no problem. If you have an auto or truck that exceeds the output, you are off the road. If you have a business that exceeds the ratings, you have to close down. They should be blind to the cause and only pay attention to the affect.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

@Peter Kluget:

I went through the Environmental Protection Agency year 2007 to seek out their recommendations for a wood burning insert for my masonry fireplace. I purchased their top of the line insert recommendation, which emits 1.26 grams an hour of particulate matter.

The EPA allowance for particulate release is 7.0 grams an hour.

In 2008 the BAAQMD adopted regulation 6, rule 3, which prohibits all wood burning in residential homes on spare the air days.

I burn high density hard wood (Almond) aged three years. I burn on those days that are not spare the air days. I burn for approximately two hours, to get enough red hot coals to heat my home through out for the entire evening. There is no continuous burning in my insert.

I have letters from PG&E that state my home is the most energy efficient home in my area. That efficiency is due primarily to my wood burning insert and my energy conservation lighting.

On spare the air days, my efficiency goes down, my costs go up, because on spare the air days I am forced to heat my home with my forced air furnace which raise the cost to heat my home.

Spare the air days are declared because people that have abused their bodies smoking tobacco and illegal drugs have lung decease, which hinders their ability to breath. Those same people have given their children the same decease of the lungs.

From the American Lung Association:

Smoking in pregnancy accounts for an estimated 20 to 30 percent low-birth weight babies, up to 14 percent or preterm deliveries, and some 10 percent of all infant deaths. Even apparently healthy, full-term babies of smokers have been found to be born with narrowed airways and reduced lung function.

Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:08 pm

"On spare the air days, my efficiency goes down, my costs go up, because on spare the air days I am forced to heat my home with my forced air furnace which raise the cost to heat my home."

I call BS. You are seriously claiming that burning wood in your fireplace is more "efficient" and cheaper on a degree-to-degree basis of heating your home than a natural gas furnace? Really?

But kudos to you for seeking the least polluting means of burning wood, and not ignoring spare the air days. I mean that. But the bottom line is, many people don't. That's not speculation; walk around on any cold STA evening and you'll smell the smoke. Some people will develop health issues, and some people will die, who would not have done so if their neighbors hadn't burned firewood. If there were no reasonable alternative, then, well, you gotta do what you gotta do. But we're not talking about that. We're talking about an optional activity that is fundamentally aesthetic. You burn wood because you like it. I get that. I like burning wood, too.

But if burning wood means some of my neighbors will suffer, I can do without. We all have alternatives. You are exalting your amenity above other people' health. Pretending otherwise is simply self-centered egotism.

Of course, we have no shortage of that around here.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

I burn wood to heat my home - period.

Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:11 am

OK, then taking you at your word, and accepting that you truly believe that burning wood is cheaper and "more efficient" than using a natural gas furnace - you are exalting your right to save a few pennies heating your home over other people's health.

Does that really make a difference?

Posted by Dave, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:40 pm

It is not just smokers who suffer from the particulates and chemicals from wood smoke that hovers at ground-level on weather inversion days. It is babies, small children, the elderly, and others who have non-smoking related respiratory illnesses (like asthma). And, as a runner, I can do without wood smoke choking my breathing when I am out in my neighborhood getting some exercise. But, if you have an anti-regulation bias, then I suppose it is tempting to set up a straw-man argument focused only on smokers.

We can all debate what the best approach is to limiting air pollution from wood-burning. But, it seems to me, that the science is pretty clear on the harm that it imposes on lots of people's lungs.

Posted by BobB, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:18 pm

And all the old cars in town this weekend with their smog control waivers aren't helping the air quality situation a whole lot either. And they're doing it for fun.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

Peter Kluget:

I installed my insert September 2007, I have used it for seven winters.
My wood cost me $320.00 year. semi annual maintenance on my insert and fire place, chimney runs $160.00. my cost to heat my home averaged over 24 months is $34.00 month.

Without my insert prior to 2007, my electric and gas bills were $225.00 to S245.00 during the winter months. Five winter months is $1125.00 to 1225.00 for the year for the five winter months only.

My neighbors are all in that same range and higher. They all have fire places, non of them have an insert.

Installed, my insert cost me just over $3000.00. The savings that I have experienced paid for my insert in three years.

Again, I emit 1.26 grams or less an hour. I am not a polluter. The EPA allows 7.0 grams an hour. Anything over 7.0 grams and hour is pollution, per the EPA. I burn less then two hours each evening that is not a spare the air day.

I approached the BAAQMD and offered to clean up that 1.26 grams an hour, reduce it to zero, with the installation of an after burner, if I be permitted to use wood to heat my home on spare the air days. The BAAQMD was non responsive to my offer.

I have a thorough documented history of communications with the BAAQMD over a ten year period.

Posted by Ms San Ramon, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:49 pm

We paid $6000 for an EPA certified wood burning insert with a catalyst. We don't burn on "Spare the Air" days, but this whole idea is infuriating for all the reasons mentioned above. BAAQMA acts like natural gas is free and will last forever. I haven't noticed any mention about how our supposedly unlimited source of natural gas will be extracted. Fracking is another issue entirely.

Posted by Robert , a resident of Danville,
on Mar 29, 2015 at 10:00 pm

There a complete self centered dunderhead in my neighborhood off of Camino Ramon, who constantly burns his fireplace not just in the winter, but throughout the Spring and Summer as well! He also burns large amounts of PAPER. Maybe he's trying to hide something, not sure. He is a completely selfish person, as he does not care that his chimney spews huge plumes and clouds of smoke into his neighbor's homes. I cannot believe people like this are allowed to burn wood and papers like this any time they want. I understand people like this frequently are so selfish that they are sick, and they know no better ['me first, at all times' stuff], but I am in favor of this legislation. In fact we need to consider BANS entirely. Selfish people do not care about society, only care of themselves.

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