City’s new wood-burning law solid

Some Gilroyans, led by resident Jim Gailey, are so upset about
the wood-burning fireplace ban recently adopted by Gilroy City
Council that they’re threatening a petition drive to force a repeal
of the measure. It looks like a popular cause, with The Dispatch’s
unscientific Web poll showing more than 81 percent support a repeal
of the wood-burning fireplace ban.
Some Gilroyans, led by resident Jim Gailey, are so upset about the wood-burning fireplace ban recently adopted by Gilroy City Council that they’re threatening a petition drive to force a repeal of the measure. It looks like a popular cause, with The Dispatch’s unscientific Web poll showing more than 81 percent support a repeal of the wood-burning fireplace ban.

The fireplace ban is quite specific and narrow. It prohibits installation of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves in new homes. When existing homes are remodeled in such a way that a wood-burning fireplace’s size or shape is affected, the ordinance requires installation of eco-friendly fireplaces. The new law does not, repeat, does not, ban the use of wood-burning fireplaces in existing homes.

The problem with wood fires is that they emit particulate matter that can enter the lungs and worsen asthma and other lung conditions. While we applaud Gailey’s call for additional air quality monitoring in Gilroy, we agree with Bay Area Air Quality Management District officials that a regional approach to reducing air pollution is necessary.

City Administrator Jay Baksa said it well: “Air pollution is a regional issue, and since it’s a regional issue, all the cities have a moral and, in some cases, a legal responsibility to do our part.”

It’s also important to point out that due to the geography of the Bay Area, most air pollution is carried by the wind to the South Valley, where it is often trapped. That’s why Morgan Hill officials fought the construction of the CalPine plant, and that’s why instituting the wood-burning fireplace ban is important to the Bay Area and to Gilroy.

“… There’s definitely an issue of transport because of the location of where Gilroy is, down in the South Bay,” said BAAQMD spokesman Emily Hopkins. “We recognize that wind does blow all types of pollutants, including particulate matter, towards Gilroy most of the time.”

Much like anti-smoking laws infringe upon the places that smokers can light up in order to improve the health and welfare of the majority, this wood-burning fireplace ordinance does infringe upon the types of fireplaces that Gilroyans building new homes or remodeling existing homes can install.

But when it comes right down to it, isn’t breathing more important than a wood-burning fireplace?

If we fail to act now, we risk ending up like many places in the Central Valley, where any kind of wood fire is banned on most days. Let’s not head down that path. The wood-burning fireplace ordinance is a reasonable balance of property rights and the right to breathe.

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