By David Armstrong

The long-running tussle over whether restaurateur David Fink should get an easement to keep a trash enclosure on public land in Piccadilly Park topped the agenda at the Carmel City Council meeting Tuesday, July 3, along with another long-burning issue: the city’s beach fire management program for Carmel Beach.

The Fink vs the city clash was finally resolved in a compromise when, after an extended and at times tedious discussion, the council followed a staff recommendation to allow Fink to keep the enclosure – built back in 2006 – with some minor modification. Fink got slightly more space than staff wanted to give him but less than he wanted. Consequently, Fink agreed to end his lawsuit.

The beach fire issue took another turn, too, when the council voted to bring the pilot program back for further review in January. A proposal to extend the pilot program until November 20, 2020 drove the latest discussion, which drew significant pushback from about 15 members of the public who spoke at the meeting in city hall’s council chambers. The council voted unanimously to send the matter to the forest and beach commission in January for its recommendations. By April the council will choose the contours of the program: propane fires, wood fires or a mix of the two for the summer of 2019.

Things got testy – and, for a while, tediously detailed – over the seemingly mundane matter of whether Fink’s fenced enclosure should be allowed to remain. Fink expressed exasperation over having to spend $48,000 to stop the city from demolishing the structure after city attorney Glen Mozingo ordered the structure torn down and called it a fire trap. Council member Carolyn Hardy pointed out that it was Fink himself, who ran up the bill by electing to sue.

Fink sued Carmel-by-the-Sea over the demolition order, saying he needed the enclosure because there was no other suitable place for recycling and garbage bins in or near Cantinetta Luca, which he owns. He denied the trash enclosure has any significant impact on the park.

A proposal by Fink to build a private staircase from a condominium above his restaurant down to the ground on public parkland had been rejected in an earlier meeting by the council.

Mozingo said he met privately with Fink’s attorney to try to reach a settlement, asking Fink to come back to the table with a new plan of his own after reviewing a new city proposal, but said Fink never did submit another plan.

During the discussion on the dais, Mozingo and city administrator Chip Rerig gave a detailed description of some offensive language that was directed at the city by Fink and his attorney. In order to ensure an end to the matter Tuesday, Fink retained the services of a more conciliatory lawyer and the two sides agreed to bury the hatchet.

Mozingo added that he saw a padlocked door at the trash enclosure, which could block an emergency exit from the restaurant in a fire. Anyone trying to leave the restaurant “would walk into an inferno,” Mozingo said. “This posed a threat to the public.”

Fires of another type sparked an impassioned debate about Carmel Beach, where feelings have long run high. Critics of wood fires frame the issue as a public health matter, emphasizing the health hazards of fine particulate matter in wood smoke – especially for children, the elderly and people living with serious medical conditions like breathing problems and cancer. Defenders of the fire pilot program – most prominently, Mayor Steve Dallas and council members Hardy and Carrie Theis – frame the subject more in recreational terms.

The public speakers on Tuesday said that, having tested smoke cauldrons and smoke-less cauldrons, and also moving them south of 10th Avenue only, it is now time to have a propane-only test for one year, followed by the absence of propane and wood fires the final year of the pilot program which will now end November 20, 2020. Only then can the city see what is really going to work once the pilot program has ended.

Council member Jan Reimers commented, “If we are going to have a pilot program, it needs to be altered and grow and develop in a certain way, because we are hearing again and again that smoke is not good for us, and that’s true. We are now ready for another phase.”

Council member Bobby Richards observed, “I want to support the pilot program and next year to move to propane only in a true pilot spirit.”

Dallas retorted, “We are not trying to poison you in any shape or form. You have to be flexible. And if you want to ban smoke, think of your own fireplaces. And I would encourage each of you to take out your wood-burning fireplace … It’s frustrating for some of us when we walk – we know it’s not smoke from beach fires. It’s from neighbors on Scenic who leave their fires going all night long, and I know we get blamed for it.”

Residents who live south of 10th objected to the characterization, saying almost no one burns a fire all night, adding that wood smoke from fireplaces smells markedly different than smoke from beach fires.

FOOTNOTES: Mozingo ruled that Dallas has to recuse himself from on-going discussions of plans for a much expanded and renovated police station. New measurements showed Dallas’s home property intrudes 23 inches inside a 500 foot radius of the police station parking lot….The city has added a new municipal code that gives Carmel-by-the-Sea legal standing to sue violators of Carmel’s ban on short-term rentals in residential districts and several other infractions of municipal law … Quote of the night, from Hardy: “I’m unclear of when they [residents] talk about smoke in their houses … I think it’s the smell of smoke that enters the structure rather than the smoke itself, and I think what we’re learning is there is are some particulate matter that we must be concerned about. But what I understand from the air board is that just because you smell some smoke doesn’t mean the air is dangerous.”