The Davis City Council unanimously approved a mandatory wood-burning ordinance Tuesday that will prohibit residents from lighting fires this winter on days with especially low air quality.
Residents who burn on “curtailment” days and receive complaints from neighbors could be fined by the city up to $100 for the first offense, though the council stipulated in the ordinance that the first infraction, at least, should result in only a warning.
Further offenses could bring even higher fines.
But city staff and the council both agreed at Tuesday’s meeting that this ordinance would best be served as an educational tool to inform residents about the effect that wood smoke has on their neighbors. The elderly, young children and people with respiratory illnesses are particularly sensitive to smoke.
Had the city enforced a similar ordinance last winter — a particularly dry and calm season — there would have been about 15 to 20 no-burn days in Davis, according to Alan Pryor, a Natural Resources Commission member.
City staff had recommended to the council Tuesday to set the threshold for no-burn days at 35 micrograms, but council members — especially Mayor Joe Krovoza, who had pushed for an even stricter policy than the council eventually agreed upon — decided that the higher count would not have had much effect on the problem.
They believed very few days would be called no-burn with such a high particle plateau.
The council also included in the ordinance exemptions for residents who use EPA Phase II-certified wood-burning devices and those who burn manufactured logs in stoves or in open-hearth fireplaces, as long as they don’t emanate visible smoke.
The council also approved the staff’s recommendation to exempt “low-income cases.” These residents would have to apply to the city to earn the right to burn on curtailment days.
Several residents complained that at times they could barely stand outside their homes when their neighbors burned wood. Others, however, said they would prefer to work with their neighbors instead of running complaints to the city.
The majority were in favor of the ordinance.
Staff members wrote in their report to the council that they believe only a handful of residents in the city regularly cause problems for their “nearest neighbors” and that this new ordinance could eliminate the need for further, stronger action.
According to the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, wood smoke is a “significant contributor to wintertime air pollution in Yolo and Solano counties.”
The agency said wood smoke contains fine particulate pollution, which has been shown to have serious health effects when inhaled.
The air district, which was represented at Tuesday’s meeting, plans to launch its own Don’t Light Tonight program on Nov. 1 as well. The program, like the city’s ordinance, asks residents to not burn wood on days forecasted for higher levels of fine particulate pollution.
The city will post no-burn day announcements on its website, www.cityofdavis.org. Residents also can check for daily updates through the Yolo-Solano AQMD. The Davis Enterprise will publish “Don’t Light Tonight” advisories as well.
To check for advisories, residents can call 530-757-3787, subscribe to the Yolo-Solano AQMD’s EnviroFlash email alert service at http://ysaqmd.enviroflash.org, visit ysaqmd.org or “like” Yolo-Solano AQMD on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Yolo-Solano-Air-Quality/270412506406692.
“By working toward cleaner air throughout the season with special attention to the problem days, we can protect our neighbors most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution,” said Mat Ehrhardt, air district executive director, in a statement. “Before you light the log, please help the community by checking the status.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash