Laguna Beach lays out some marine safety plans for takeover of South Laguna beaches

A lifeguard watches the water from a lifeguard tower at Aliso Beach in South Laguna.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

As Laguna Beach moves along in the process of assuming control of the beaches in South Laguna from the county of Orange, the city has outlined plans to ensure its marine safety department will be prepared for the expansion of coverage.

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved a cooperative transfer agreement with the county to take over ownership, maintenance and operations of the associated coastal properties. City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said the agreement will be considered by the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6.

Council members also approved city staff’s request to have two full-time positions created — an administrative assistant for the marine safety department and a human resources supervisor.

Additionally, Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow will see a bump in pay to reflect the increased area of responsibility to come.

City officials are targeting March 1 for the assumption of ocean lifeguard operations in South Laguna. A base level, or minimal staffing, would be required through the end of May. Additional marine safety staff would work weekends in May, and peak staffing levels would be needed from the second week of June through Labor Day weekend.

“We looked at a couple different timelines, and we’re happy with this date,” Snow said. “What it does is allow us to move in at a time where it’s our base staffing level — which actually will be a little bit more than the county’s providing around that time of year — and allow us to continue to hire … until our last training period in June in preparation for the summer months, which is peak staffing. We feel that this timeline allows us the time to hire, train [and] acquire equipment.”

Approximately 50 additional ocean lifeguards will be needed for seasonal work to cover all beaches within the city at peak staffing levels during the summer, city staffers estimate.

The Laguna Beach City Council directed staff to work toward an agreement with the County of Orange to assume ownership of the beaches in South Laguna.

County executive officer Frank Kim, via a letter dated Aug. 17, said the county would offer $22 million to transfer its coastal properties within Laguna Beach. The first $2 million is set to be paid within 30 days of the agreement being finalized.

Ahead of the start date, the marine safety department will purchase up to six lifeguard towers, communication equipment such as radios, cellphones and iPads, and rescue tubes and paddleboards. The department will also add rescue vehicles to cover the new service area.

Mayor Sue Kempf said that Laguna Beach Pride had expressed interest in having a rainbow-decorated lifeguard tower, and the group had been willing to raise funds for it.

“I don’t think they need to raise money to purchase it because we’re going to purchase the towers …,” Dupuis said. “If they want to raise funding for the painting and fabrication of the coloring, we’d be more than happy. … We can work with them to make it happen.”

Laguna Beach Pride president Craig Cooley said the suggested rainbow tower, which he said would represent a culture of diversity and acceptance in town, would be at West Street. The organization would also like to put a commemorative plaque on site.

A couple residents also encouraged city staff to meet with locals to gain an understanding of issues unique to South Laguna, including the oft-discussed Aliso Beach sand berm, which advocates have been encouraging the county to better protect.

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