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Outdoor cooking, common courtesy & air pollution
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Got an outdoor kitchen with a wood-burning smoker or a pizza oven?

Count your blessings you don't live in the Bay Area.

Currently, air quality restrictions the Bay Area Quality Management District imposes on Spare the Air Days exempt homes and business that burn wood for all kinds of cooking whether it is inside or out as well as if wood burning fireplaces are the only source of heating. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District does not regulate burning wood for cooking, even on days they call for no burning.

What has got the ball rolling to restrict outdoor kitchen smokers even more in the Bay Area has everything to do with a proliferation of people who essentially like the taste of home-smoked meats over those cooked on a grill that uses gas.

The Bay Area air quality folks have gotten enough complaints about backyard grilling and barbecuing that they have considered tightening the rules even further.

The current high pressure system has spiked complaints as smoke hasn't cleared out, dissipated or pushed eastward across the Altamont Pass or through the Carquinez Strait. Some studies have shown more than 20 percent of the air pollution that ends up in San Joaquin County originates from the Bay Area.

One lady has a neighbor two doors down from her that smokes meat for six to eight hours at a time. That smoke has been ending up in her bedroom.

One would think common courtesy is needed and not another government regulation.

But then consider the attitude of Zach Dilgard, who was quoted by Associated Press. Dilgard is an employee of Barbecues Galore in Walnut Creek who happens to have a home smoker: "If I have a glorious piece of meat for the smoker and it happened to be a Spare the Air Day, I promise you I'll still be cooking it in the smoker," Dilgard said. "What am I supposed to say - ‘We're going to McDonald's instead, guys?'"

Maybe not McDonald's, but how about either cooking meat different or having something else that day?

There were only 13 Spare the Air Days in 2013. Surely folks can go 13 out of 365 days a year without having wood smoked meat for dinner.

What did in smoking cigarettes in many places initially weren't the health concerns as much as the irritation of non-courteous smokers.

Those of us old enough have stories of more than a few smokers who pushed common decency when smoking in public places wasn't taboo.

The one that summed it up for me was at the Pancake Parade in Sacramento in 1980 when a smoker in the next booth continually was holding his burning cigarette between puffs over the high-backed bench seat, basically putting it in the faces of my date and I. When I finally got up and asked why he was draping the cigarette over the back of the bench he said that his wife didn't like the cigarette smoke blowing in her face. Of course, he didn't stop smoking.

And while anti-smoking zealots at the time were driven by the health concerns, most folks who didn't smoke weren't. They were more irked about the smell and residual odor.

While there may not have been a way for smokers and non-smokers to co-exist inside a building and make both happy, the demise of smoking basically any where you went was hastened by those who exhibited no common courtesy while puffing away.

I am not a big fan of having smoke from a fire for cooking, whether it is smoke from charcoal briquettes or wood blown into my residence from a neighbor.

When I was living in an apartment, there was one tenant who not only barbecued almost every night but also smoked constantly. Thanks to prevailing winds it always made its way into my second floor unit.

I wasn't the only neighbor to complain. At least three others did. He steadfastly refused to smoke in a place where he wouldn't be sending smoke into open windows nor would be cut back on his barbecuing

Eventually, after being warned repeatedly by the management and not modifying his routine, he was evicted.

I wouldn't have had an issue if it was once or twice a week. But six to seven days a week for almost two months was way over the top with the BBQ smoke. The cigarette smoking was an easy fix, but he insisted on doing it in the exact same spot so he could watch his TV from his porch.

He repeatedly told everyone it was his right to BBQ and to smoke but he refused to concede that anyone had a right not to have his smoke fill their apartment or prevent from using their porch or balcony. He was unwilling to compromise.

Such an attitude can ultimately be counterproductive for advocates of outdoor kitchens that use wood to BBQ especially in fairly close quarters.

It will drive the argument to science and away from simply being an issue of courteousness. A 2012 study of pollution conducted by the University of California, Davis determined grilling with charcoal derived from wood creates some of the most toxic smoke in residential neighborhoods.

The solution should be not to BBQ in such a manner that it negatively impacts a neighbor. And to avoid even more draconian rules from being forced on outdoor kitchens, it would be wise to refrain from residents using them on days when air pollution control districts mandate no wood burning.

If not, the next step for the Bay Area, as an example, would be banning them on Spare the Air Days and ultimately putting in place even more draconian restrictions on other days.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.


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