Grill ‘em!

You gotta fight for your right to barbecue!

In the latest battle between Manhattan Beach’s famously combative civics groups, Manhattan Beach’s oldest organization condemned its off-shoot’s plan to ban charcoal grilling in the park, saying all its rival wants to do is keep out non-residents off their peninsula.

“The hope of privatizing Manhattan Beach is still very much alive, and now they speak of preventing people from barbecuing,” said Community Group President Ira Zalcman at the group’s meeting last Wednesday night. “We should encourage more activities to attract families.”

In 2007, former Community Group president Ron Biondo proposed to make the beach exclusive to residents and to charge admission. His controversial idea, which required city approval, never panned out, but the uproar caused by the proposal was one of several reasonswhy Biondo and others broke away from the Community Group to form the Neighborhood Association in 2008, according to Zalcman. Since then, the two groups have become the Hatfield and McCoys of community activism.

“I was appalled at what was happening,” Zalcman said. “That’s why I ran for president the following year.”

The four-year-old Neighborhood Association hasn’t discussed privatizing the beach or park, and its leaders deny that the grilling ban has anything to do with keeping the nabe exclusive.

“We have no plans to privatize Manhattan Beach,” said Neighborhood Association president Alan Ditchek.

Ditchek claimed that his group wants to remove and prohibit charcoal pits only because they pose a health risk, and pointed out that Zalcman signed a petition in favor of the same ban several years ago.

“The Community Group is being hypocritical and putting both residents and visitors to Manhattan Beach at risk by ignoring the hazards of charcoal grilling,” Ditchek said.

But Community Group members say that they gave up the initiative because of a lack of scientific evidence, and questioned reasoning behind the Neighborhood Association’s initiative, which is based on a recent study that links air pollution to stroke and cardiovascular disease. The report, published in the March 23 Journal of American Medical Association, doesn’t specifically mention charcoal as a source of the pollution.

“Linking barbecue smoke to this report is inaccurate and a quantum leap to an erroneous conclusion,” said Community Group member Judy Baron, who initiated the motion to oppose the Neighborhood Association’s grilling ban. “I haven’t been able to find a scientific study that says barbecue pits are harmful, so the designated barbecue pits should remain for the public to enjoy until further research comes out.”

The charcoal grilling issue is just the latest in a series of skirmishes between the two organizations. Last month, Zalcman threatened to sue the city for installing the Oriental Boulevard bike lane, while Neighborhood Association leader Edmund Dweck said that residents should negotiate with the Department of Transportation instead.

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