Community Commentary: Official clears up lifeguard services comments

The comments attributed to me in a recent article concerning beach safety were not exactly in the correct context ("Off-Season Lifeguards may be Reduced," April 18). I was asked about service levels during prolonged periods of times at the beach.

There are three distinct sets of activities that take place on the boardwalk, on the beach and in the water. For prolonged periods of time, there are only significant activities that take place on the beach and boardwalk. The presence of lifeguards is not customary to two of three sets of these activities: the promenade and the beach.

As stated to the reporter, many locals are drawn to the beach to run, walk, bike, walk their dogs or kids, drink coffee on a sea wall or read a newspaper in a beach chair or sunbathe. Lifeguards are not essential to the predominant areas of the promenade and the beach.

I was addressing those prolonged periods when there are only significant activities on the boardwalk and beach, which do not necessitate lifeguard services.

Statistics kept by the Fire Department address the level of activity occurring in the water during the year. During the period 2005-10, more than 91% of rescues occurred from May to September. No rescues were recorded during December, January or February during some of those years.

The current discussion at the city centers around providing a good model for beach safety that saves money. The public may be unaware of financial facts involving compensation.

During 2010, the top-earning lifeguard received total compensation of $211,400, and second-highest paid received $203,000. All full-timers had total compensation of six figures, save for one making $98,000.

Two year-round lifeguards, both in their 50s, recently retired. Each receive annual pension benefits in excess of $100,000 for the rest of their lives.

The city's pension obligations continue to grow. CalPERS increased our safety rates from 15.3% in 2000 to 40.5% in 2012. This means for every dollar the city pays in salary, it must pay the pension agency 40 cents. Payments have more than doubled in just eight years. The city's 2012 payment to PERS for the city's work force will be $23.9 million. This information is publicly available and verifiable by the city's Administrative Services Division.

The city is addressing the cost benefit of providing appropriate lifeguard services during the calendar year.

The service model proposed by the city manager and fire chief in the fiscal 2011-12 budget is nine year-round lifeguards in the off-season and 13 full-time guards, and up to 210 seasonal tower guards in the busy summer months. Seasonal tower guards make $16 to $22 per hour.

The city has the ability to add temporary staff in the off-season, if warm weather or ocean conditions demand. Coverage on busy days is supplemented by temporary tower guards compensated at a lower pay rate. Cost savings derive from reducing 13 year round full-time positions to nine.

That said, multiple service models are being discussed.

The city could hire O.C. lifeguards, a private-sector firm that patrols county beaches, to reduce the costs and culpability of running a beach in today's culture. The Coastal Commission increased accessibility to our coastal areas. There's been a shift in the paradigm of costs to the city of providing services and the liability involved with today's culture.

Adjusting current practices can achieve cost savings. Measures include adjusting work schedules, reclassifications to differentiate seasonal from off-seasonal pay, eliminating guaranteed hours for seasonal guards on call even on cold days and eliminating nighttime standby pay. The city could go from three to two boats to achieve cost savings.

The budget pie is only so big. The budget adds three more police officers to the patrol division. Programs at the widely acclaimed OASIS senior center will grow, including added hours at the fitness center. There will be no reduction in library hours. There remains an aggressive program for road and parks maintenance.

This discussion is all under review at the city. I welcome your input.

LESLIE DAIGLE is a Newport Beach city councilwoman.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World