A plan to outsource lifeguard services on one of the busiest stretches of coastline in Newport Beach is being abandoned after employee unions and residents protested.
City officials, however, said the plan was dropped because private lifeguard services would have been more expensive than the town's own lifeguards.
The wealthy beach city had been exploring options to outsource lifesaving services along a 1.2-mile stretch of coastline in Corona del Mar in an effort to curb pension costs.
A typical full-time Newport Beach lifeguard captain, for instance, makes between $94,000 and $99,000 annually and the city must contribute an additional $52,000 to $55,000 to cover expected future pension costs, city officials said.
But of five organizations that submitted proposals, only two met the basic requirements, and both of those – including a bid from the state -- would have cost more than the city currently spends, city officials said in a statement.
"We base every outsourcing consideration on the facts," Mayor Rush Hill said in the statement. "We look at our own service level and costs, we ask others to tell us how they would provide the service and at what cost, and we carefully analyze the responses.
"When our in-house staff can provide the best service most cost-effectively,” he added, “we keep what we've got."
City Manager Dave Kiff declined to reveal quoted prices from the two bidders. The city spends about $4 million a year on lifeguards at all of its beaches.
Newport Beach's two lifeguard unions pushed hard against the outsourcing idea. The Assn. of Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguards, which represents seasonal guards, went door-to-door, handing out hundreds of signs and starting an online petition that garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
"I think it's fantastic that the city came to this decision," said Capt. Boyd Mickley, who leads the Lifeguard Management Assn., the union representing Newport Beach's full-time guards. "For me, emotionally, through this whole thing, it's been a roller coaster."
According to Mickley, this announcement came just in time to transition smoothly to the lifeguards' busy season. In March, Newport typically holds tryouts for summer beach positions.
"It's finally great to have a close and start planning for the summer," he said.