The heat around a proposed barbecue ban on Manhattan Beach continued to intensify this week, this time at the Community Board 15 meeting. But the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation said they have no plans to halt one of America’s favorite pastimes.
Parks Department Brooklyn Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey listened intently to arguments for and against the ban at the Wednesday night meeting, but appeared unmoved by the opponents’ concerns. And, according to a statement from his office, no ban is likely in the near future.
“Commissioner Jeffrey has been in touch with the Community Board regarding their concerns,” a Parks Department spokesperson told Sheepshead Bites. “At this time there are no plans to eliminate barbecuing at Manhattan Beach.”
Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association President Dr. Alan Ditchek, who also serves as vice chairperson on the Community Board, stood by his arguments that charcoal grilling at the beach carries pollution and health risks for the community’s residents.
But, while Jeffrey maintained a poker face, advocates in attendance made supportive statements to the commissioner.
Stan Kaplan, a Manhattan Beach resident and member of both the MBNA and Manhattan Beach Community Group, said that families gathering together to barbecue at Manhattan Beach keeps good order at the beach and should continue to go on. Another supporter demanded that Ditchek bring his evidence to a meeting, and said that his internet research yielded no definitive ties between charcoal barbecuing, pollution and illness.
But Ditchek kept to his guns, saying that the grouping together of grills in parks is different from backyard barbecues, and is more likely to have a damaging effect for residents nearby.
“If you have a concentration of 10, 15, or 20 barbecue grills, all the smoke adds to the air pollution, which is only deleterious to your health,” said Ditchek. “If you look at the studies you can see that cancers are caused by it, cardiac diseases, respiratory disease, and strokes.”
“When you concentrate a bunch of barbecue grills in one place and you have any kind of a breeze, those people – not only the people barbecuing the food, but the people on the beach and the children in the playground – are certainly at a health risk,” he added.
Ditchek did not have the documentation stating this information and asked the audience to check for themselves when they asked to see some documentation at the next meeting.
“That information is on the internet you can look up numerous studies,” said Ditchek.
When he first proposed the ban, he said his conclusions were supported by an article from a recent issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, which argues that air pollution – and concentrated particulate matter, especially – elevates a population’s risk of stroke. The study did not mention barbecuing, but discussed overall air pollution and specifically examined air quality in developing nations.
Measurements of particulate matter around the barbecuing areas in Manhattan Beach have never been made to see how much it affects air quality.
Ira Zalcman, president of the MBCG, which is often described as the MBNA’s “rival,” said Ditchek’s arguments are all smoke. According to Zalcman, no one has been able to find any documentation supporting such evidence and that the MBNA has a “history in wanting to privatize the beach.”
Zalcman believes the fight to ban barbecuing on the beach has much to do with racism and discrimination.
Before splitting from the MBCG to form the MBNA in 2007, the MBNA’s leadership “are the ones that proposed privatizing the beach and charging admission to Manhattan Beach, which is a public beach, and now they want to ban people from barbecuing… it’s kind of fishy,” said Zalcman. “I just don’t trust them.”
But MBNA spokesperson Edmond Dweck claims that banning barbecuing on Manhattan Beach is strictly for health concerns, and not meant to keep people out.
“God forbid, that was never our intention. These are just accusations that are being brought up only by the other group,” said Dweck. “Basically, it’s strictly health concern. We don’t want people not to come in, we don’t want people not to barbecue, but there are other ways of doing it.”
Dweck explained that barbecuing in a controlled environment would be less harmful to the people on the beach, including the children.
Currently, only seven Brooklyn parks permit barbecuing, and only one other in Southern Brooklyn – Kaiser Park in Coney Island. All of those parks limit barbecuing areas to small sections of the property. In Manhattan Beach, grilling is legally confined only to the section northeast of the promenade, next to the parking lot, and also near Hastings Street.
Many of the opponents suggested that beach-goers could bring their own portable propane grills – some of which cost hundreds of dollars. However, propane grilling is strictly forbidden in public parks.
Despite opposition from neighbors who use the grills, as well as the Parks Department’s statement that grilling will continue on Manhattan Beach, the MBNA appears to be regrouping and pushing forward in its fight to obtain a ban. Dr. Chaim Bernstein, the chief medical officer and chief of pulmonary diseases at Beth Israel Medical Center, has been invited to speak about health concerns and charcoal barbecuing at the group’s May 2 meeting.
Until then, the group will have to continue to fight off criticism that the barbecue ban is an exclusionary measure.
“It wouldn’t have been brought up by our president, who is a doctor, unless he had substantiated information. This has nothing to do with racism or elitism,” said Dweck.