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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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Air board piles on more regulations

Uploaded: Nov 3, 2015
The Bay Area air board directors took another Draconian action last week when they decided to ban wood-burning fireplaces or inserts in all new construction. It took place just as the board’s “Winter Spare the Air” season started last Sunday.
The ban includes the highly efficient, low-emission wood stoves that burn wood pellets.
In its never-ending quest for pristine mountain air, the board became the first one in the nation to ban all wood-burning stoves. The district staff had earlier proposed forced retrofitting to eliminate wood burning stoves when homes were sold or new tenants came into rentals. That proposal was shelved for the time being, but they pushed ahead with the other proposal.
The directors, mostly elected officials from Bay Area cities and counties, voted unanimously to approve the regulation. Any changes to fireplaces in a remodel costing more than $15,000 will require homeowners to retrofit with a natural gas furnace or eliminate the fireplace.
The district estimates that wood particles make up an estimated 39 percent of the fine particulates on cold winter days. After several years of voluntary requests not to burn, directors approved the wood burning ban days with penalties in 2008. As last week’s actions show, the board has continued to pile on additional regulations.
The new plan also tightened exemptions on homes with wood stoves that are the only source of heat. These wood stoves must now be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which means retrofitting for older homes with wood stoves.
The regulations also allow the air board to issue advisories three days in advance, which likely will mean much longer no-burn periods.
Certainly, we all want clean air—check out the board’s history on its website.
As one who grew up in Pleasanton and has lived in the valley for more than 50 years, I can recall too many days when we could not see Mt. Diablo from Interstate 580 on summer and fall days. That is rarely the case now—the worse we see in unusually warm, stagnant weather, is a brown haze.
This is a classic case of a government agency that never can be satisfied with what is clean enough—thus their services are no longer required.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Nov 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

With the temperature dipping into the thirty degree range this evening, I will be firing up my wood burning insert.

At a maximum, I emit 1.26 grams an hour, with my dampers opened up, I emit less than one gram an hour.

The wood fired ovens in downtown Pleasanton and elsewhere across the east bay cities, will be emitting greater than 3000 grams an hours.

The BAAQMD lets the wood fired ovens in restaurants burn without regulation requirements. wood fired ovens are not required to retrofit or anything else, they are free to burn and emit more than 3000 grams an hour of particulate matter.

Much in the same manner the democrats in Washington write law. Punish those that are keeping it clean and let the profit takers have their way.

Posted by Cognitive Disser , a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 3, 2015 at 4:03 pm

This is yet another self-contradictory wandering around an issue where results and ideology clash. For some reason, ideology continues to win Tim's support, despite all the contrary evidence.

He clearly admits that the Air Board and other regulations have done an Excellent Job, as follows:

"As one who ... has lived in the valley for more than 50 years, I can recall too many days when we could not see Mt. Diablo from Interstate 580 on summer and fall days. That is rarely the case now—the worse [sic] we see in unusually warm, stagnant weather, is a brown haze." BTW, the population of Pleasanton those 50 smoggy years ago was about 10,000 -- now, it's 70,000+.

So, let's see, the area's population has grown Seven-fold, and yet the air is dramatically cleaner. Those horrid, unelected bureaucrats at the Air Board are obviously ruining our lives! Because: regulation!

And now that they want to keep it that way, having tried voluntary compliance that didn't work, they are implementing new rules - so that Tim's progeny will also get to see Mt. Diablo from his house. How ... heroic? ... forward-looking? ... sensible, at least? No, it's somehow "draconian."

If you are a sailor, Tim, please be careful, lest you fall off the edge of the earth.

Instead of castigating the Board, Tim should be nominating these guys for the Hometown Heroes Awards!

Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Nov 3, 2015 at 5:47 pm

I think what Tim had in mind was that this agency keeps itself in business by continually moving the target as to what is good enough. If the air we breathe is good enough, then this agency has no reason to exist. If you were promised a six figure pension from Calpers you would certainly find ways to make sure the air quality was good, but not good enough so you could continue to accrue credits towards retirement.

There are now over 500 state boards, commissions, and agencies. In all of California's history, only 7 have been disbanded.

Posted by Cognitive Disser , a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 4, 2015 at 8:50 am

Bill: it's a dynamic system It needs tending, and tending very well.

Do you know the per capita general fund/tax cost of BAAQMD in Alameda County? Would you choose $3, $30, or $300/year? It's $3. For clean air.

By far the most of their funding comes from permit fees from polluters -- a user charge, if you will, for soiling the general public's air that belongs to all of us. Some of that may come back to us here in higher prices, but most of that is passed through to consumers elsewhere. Be sure to thank Aunt Mabel in Cleveland the next time you visit.

Do you know what the two biggest problems in our air are -- those issues for which the Bay Area exceeds national healthy air limits most often? They are ozone and particulates, especially fine particulates = wood smoke. How many days/year of unhealthy air would you say is acceptable for you and your kids to breathe? Your answer may be "lots" if you're from LA -- personally, my answer is "none." Grace of BAAQMD, the Bay Area is trending that direction, but we're not there, yet.

Disband BAAQMD because it's one of 500 boards? No, thanks. I'd sooner pass-up one standard venti at 'Buckies in return for clean air.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Nov 4, 2015 at 9:35 am

How come so many folks like to trash Tim...he's done lots of good deeds through his church activities...i don't get must be jealous!

Posted by Damon, a resident of Foothill Knolls,
on Nov 4, 2015 at 5:44 pm

@Michael Austin: "The wood fired ovens in downtown Pleasanton and elsewhere across the east bay cities, will be emitting greater than 3000 grams an hours."

You often mention wood fired ovens in downtown Pleasanton. But which restaurants have wood fired ovens? I would think that if any restaurant downtown had a wood fired oven it would be a place like Gay '90's Pizza but, no, I couldn't find any mention of a wood fired oven in their Yelp reviews or on their website. So exactly who downtown is using wood fired ovens? Give some specific names.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Nov 4, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.


Located on Main Street and Saint Mary Street, advertises their wood fired grill. They have a very large sign on the side of the building facing Saint Mary Street that boosts their wood fired grill.

They cook everything on that wood fired grill. As well, there are wood fired ovens in Pleasanton and other cities in the east bay.

This wood fired grill in downtown Pleasanton is a major polluter of particulate matter. More so than wood fired ovens.

By the way, most polluters do not advertise. This place does, because they are immune to the BAAQMD regulations.

Posted by Damon, a resident of Foothill Knolls,
on Nov 4, 2015 at 6:47 pm

@Michael Austin

OK, Michael. So for the record you have one restaurant downtown that has a wood fired grill. As for your saying that they are "immune to the BAAQMD regulations", I just checked the Spare-the-Air website and found this:


Residents and business owners who own or use any indoor or outdoor fireplace, fire pit, or wood or pellet stove must:

Check before burning from November through February. If air pollution levels are forecast to be unhealthy, the Air District will issue a Winter Spare the Air Alert, which bans wood burning both indoors and outdoors.

Refrain from burning wood, firelogs, or pellets when a Winter Spare the Air Alert is issued. This applies to households and businesses with fireplaces or other wood-burning devices, such as hotels and restaurants. It is okay to use gas-fueled fireplaces and logs, gas inserts, or electrical fireplaces.

Spare-the-Air: Web Link

So what's the story? Are businesses exempt or not? The section above sounds like wood-burning restaurants are expected to abide by Spare-the-Air days as well as everyone else.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Nov 4, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

Wood fired grills and wood fired ovens are exempt.
BAAQMD does not apply their regulations against businesses using wood fired grills and wood fired ovens to cook food that is served to the public.

Residents are forbidden to smoke turkeys, fish, or BBQ, etc., businesses are forbidden to BBQ to party for employees, etc.

I have been there, down that, fought the battles, lost the war.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Nov 6, 2015 at 9:38 am

Cognitive Disse - If this agency is suppose to be a watchdog for the air quality in the Bay Area, why didn't they catch the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond? Crude oil contains hydrogen sulfide which is an extremely toxic gas to breathe. Of all the places to have sensors, this should have been number one. People could see the smoke from the refinery from a hundred miles away, but the BAAQMD sensors didn't pick up one trace of contamination in the surrounding air. So what are we paying for? I'll tell you what we are paying for, a group of people that are becoming more and more dictatorial and willing to get their way through unlawful enforcement to meet their own agenda which has no scientific basis.

Posted by Cognitive Disser , a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 6, 2015 at 10:32 am

Okay, Bill: here you go. The first thing you have to do is to identify is "which Chevron refinery fire" -- there've been at least three since 2007. But let's assume that you mean the 2007 version -- the biggest one. Second thing to realize is that the sensors are placed -- guess where -- at ground level, you know, where people are.

The Board reports on that fire indicate that the ground-level monitors did not detect excess H2S at ground level, a result for which we may all be grateful, and alive. The report (which would have been available to you, as it was to me, in two minutes of googling, instead of sharpening your axe on that grinder) also indicates that the wind was blowing from the east-northeast that evening and the fire was very hot -- which means that the smoke was carried up and then out over the bay -- again, lucky us.

Remember the old saying that 'dilution is the solution to pollution' that led to tall smokestacks in the '70s? Well, to a very limited extent that's true -- the atmosphere can dissipate pollutants and clean itself a bit, and it did, here. Unless you were on a freighter in the Bay, you probably did not suffer adverse consequences.

Interesting, too, that the much smaller 2012 coker fire under different wind conditions DID measure carbon particulates consistent with that fire's situation (and the Board's purpose).

I have no links to the Board, nor do I even know anybody who works there -- BUT -- I grow weary of know-nothing attacks on an agency that's doing a good job, because anti-government ideology 'trumps' evidence (which is not even sought before the diatribe begins).

Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville,
on Nov 6, 2015 at 11:26 am

God forbid our air should be "pristine." "Good enough" should be our community motto! And as to who decides what's "good enough," well, how about a committee composed of representatives of the people who cause the pollution? That sounds fair.

I would like to propose some objective "good enough" pollution standards:

1. Water: if the creek won't burn, it's "clean enough."
2. Air: If you can walk 100 yards without choking, the air's "clean enough."
3. Land: If cockroaches can live there, it's "clean enough."

What do you think?

Posted by Roz Rogoff, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 9, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

On Fire Pizza is across the lot from Petco in San Ramon. They have wood fired ovens and a real woodpile outside the store. It makes a difference in the quality of the pizza. The crust is thin and cooks in 5 minutes. I really like that place and usually pick up a pizza when I shop at the Petco for cat food.


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