Neighbors Question Use of Charcoal Grills in Veterans Gardens Project at the Recreation Center 

Veterans Gardens will be on the left with five separate areas that contain picnic tables and six grills, and on the right will be the three bocce courts. The park is adjacent to residences on Alma Real.

Alma Real residents discovered that eight charcoal grills were proposed for the former picnic area at the Palisades Recreation Center, where the Veterans Gardens/bocce courts are now being constructed.

One resident came before the Park Advisory Board (PAB) at its January meeting to express concern because of the proximity of the grills to residences located in a High Fire Severity Zone.

His concerns were noted by PAB Vice President Robert Harter, who is also a key leader of the Veterans Gardens project.

On February 27, a resident addressed the Pacific Palisades Community Council and warned about fire and air pollution posed by charcoal grills, which may now be a future agenda item.

Huntington residents who live along Alma Real bordering the park (and its numerous tall trees) say they have no issue with Veterans Gardens/bocce, but instead are concerned that details like grills were never made public.

On February 24, residents Stephen and Emily Somer and Bill and Jennifer Armistead sent a letter to Councilman Bonin’s office questioning the fire danger posed by charcoal grills.

“There is no way to safely monitor the use of these grills in Veterans Park, or enforce Southern California’s increasingly common ‘burn bans,’ or immediately put out or control any sparks, flare-ups or grease fires which may occur from these grills or accompanying debris,” they wrote.

The families also questioned whether “toxic emissions produced from one to six charcoal grills at any given time is an acceptable health risk for a public park situated extremely close to homes, in an urban environment, and frequented by children enjoying sports in close proximity.”

Bonin’s field deputy Lisa Cahill replied by email to the couples on February 28.

“Our office did relay your concerns to the community project leaders who I know reviewed the plans, removed one grill, relocated two grills and then walked the site with park and fire officials,” Cahill said.

“The city departments that have been called in to review this have all determined that the grills pose no risk,” Cahill continued. “I understand that you do not agree and I will relay that to the Councilmember, but because that determination has been made, my recommendation is to continue to work at the community level to find a solution that works for everyone.”

Bonin was one of the officials that attended the groundbreaking for the Gardens in November 2019. The project is scheduled to open in April.

Circling the News contacted PAB President Mike Skinner and Harter by email on February 28.

Harter responded, “Six barbecue grills are being installed in Veterans Gardens [they went up that day]. The barbecue grills are covered, an upgrade from the open barbecue grills found in other City parks.

“The original plans, with eight barbecues, were approved by 1) the Park Advisory Board, 2) the Staff of the Department of Recreation and Parks and 3) the Board of Commissioners of the Department of Recreation and Parks,” Harter wrote.

“After the original plans were approved, one barbecue grill was eliminated from the project. Upon learning that neighbors were concerned that the barbecue grills presented a fire danger, we responded by eliminating one additional barbecue grill from the plans and by moving two other barbecue grills further away from the neighbors’ homes and further away from the trees.

“We then had six firefighters from Station 69 out to the Park to review the barbecue locations,” Harter said. “They expressed no concerns.”

CTN published a story last August when Station 69 and neighbors were concerned about grills being used in Temescal Canyon Park near residences.

That story noted that L.A. Recreation and Parks Senior Park Maintenance Supervisor Mike Jackson had stated: “Temescal Canyon is designated as a high fire danger park, so we can get signs that state ‘No Barbecues’ April through November and ‘No Barbecues’ within 100 feet of a hillside.”

Eventually, ‘No Smoking, No Barbecues’ signs were posted, quoting LAMC 57.4908. (Visit: https://www.circlingthenews.com/temescal-canyon-…-open-flames-and/ )‎

The Palisades Rec Center is located in a High Fire Severity Zone and residents on Alma Real by the park were evacuated during the Getty fire.

The grills are located near Blue Gum eucalyptus trees, which are deemed “highly flammable” by S.A.F.E.(Sustainable and Fire-Safe) Landscapes Southern California Guidebook: Landscapes in the Wildland Urban Interface.

Additionally, a hedge of 40 Podocarpus (icee blue species) were planted on the Rec Center/Huntington property line. The icee blue are also considered highly flammable and are on the prohibited tree list in San Diego County because of fire concerns.

According to nursery sources, the trees should be planted three feet apart and need regular water, at least in the first two years, to get them established as a hedge.

One of the residents told CTN in an email, “Just more poor planning and zero foresight on the part of the Committee and Rec & Parks.”

Are residents’ concerns regarding charcoal emissions valid?

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Governing Board adopted Rule 1174, Control of Volatile Organic Compound Emissions from the Ignition of Barbecue Charcoal, in 1990.

By 1992, all products used for the ignition of barbecue charcoal—other than electric starters (probes), chimneys using paper tinder, natural gas or propane— were banned.

According to a 2013 L.A.Times story (“Cooking up Toxic Air Pollution”): “When UC Davis scientists collected air pollution particles in Fresno and then exposed laboratory mice to them, they found that one of the most toxic sources was the backyard grill.

“‘That was like, wow!,’ said Anthony Wexler, the study’s coauthor and director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis. ‘It’s not that you’re cooking; it’s how you’re cooking. We think it’s the [charcoal] briquets that are the problem.’

“Wexler’s research broke new ground by collecting atmospheric samples to gauge the toxicity of different sources of particle pollution.

“‘This is quite a bit more realistic about what we’re really inhaling,’ said Wexler, who conducted the research with Kent Pinkerton, a professor of pediatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine.”

According to the PAB’s Bob Harter, the new charcoal grills were upgraded with lids to assuage fire and toxicity worries of neighbors.

A Molekule Blog story (“BBQ Smoke: Is it Bad for Your Health?”) asked the question, “How Can You Limit the Harmful Effects of Barbecue Smoke?” It reported: “When you barbecue with a closed grill hood, it can lead to hotter temperatures and the creation of more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that release into the air and can stick to the food.”

The report provided several tips to achieve limiting exposure to VOC’s, which included using propane and natural gas in a grill instead of charcoal and grilling with an open hood to allow the smoke to disperse. (Visit: https://molekule.science/bbq-smoke-bad-for-health/).

The 2019 California Fire Code restricts BBQ grill use and the use of any open-flame cooking device, requiring at least 10 feet of clearance between active grills and “combustible construction.”

CTN’s February 28 email to Harter and Skinner included details about the “no cooking” signs that were posted in Temescal Canyon Park and asked about Veterans Gardens: “Is there really a need for charcoal grills–especially given the few homeless people who hang out in that area–and with the eucalyptus abutting the neighborhood?”

Harter responded, “Thanks for the reference to your story,” and added, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”

Your Palisades Park Improvement Corporation, a private nonprofit, is overseeing construction of Veterans Gardens. The initial Rec and Parks approval for the project, which does not include mention of the grills or choice of landscaping material, can be found at https://www.laparks.org/sites/default/files/pdf/commissioner/2019/aug07/19-162.pdf

Charcoal grills were installed in the new Veterans Gardens, but some neighbors are questioning the need.

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