Off-season lifeguards may be reduced

Beaches off Corona del Mar, the Wedge, and Santa Ana River Jetties could be affected.

April 18, 2011|By Mike Reicher,

It's not very likely a lifeguard will spot someone swept to sea by a rip current in the middle of the winter. That's when guards operate with a stripped-down workforce and can only patrol some parts of the city's beaches once a day.

If Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff's budget proposal is passed, the odds of rescue will be even longer. And he's OK with that.

By cutting full-time staff during the off-season, Kiff believes Newport can save money while still meeting its public safety obligations. The guards disagree. They say they won't be able to keep the beaches safe enough, and tourism could ultimately suffer as a result.


Soon, the City Council will have to decide.

"Today, our beach protection is best in the summer when people expect to use it," Kiff wrote in an e-mail. "That will continue ... but I see no reason why Newport Beach taxpayers should fund the rescue of someone who chooses to go out in the water in the middle of January."

His proposal would reduce the city's "permanent" lifeguard staff from 13 people to eight. Those guards patrol the beaches in the off-season, train the 200 or so seasonal lifeguards each year, and are among those who operate more sophisticated equipment such as rescue boats and scuba gear.

The number of guards during the summer months would potentially stay the same.

Brent Jacobsen, president of the Lifeguard Management Assn., said the cuts would leave just a few guards to respond to emergencies on any given day during the off-season, from the end of October until the beginning of March.

"It's simply not enough to run an operation like that," he said. "It's just not safe."

Newport has nine miles of oceanfront beaches and a few bay beaches. Today, lifeguards are able to dash into the water within 10 minutes of receiving a call anywhere in the city, Jacobsen said. For ocean beaches, it's within five minutes.

While those times may increase under the new proposal, Jacobsen said the real danger is not being able to warn swimmers before they potentially get into danger.

Guards during the off-season would probably not be able to patrol beaches in Corona del Mar, by the Wedge, and near the Santa Ana River Jetties — the extremities of the city's coastlines — Jacobsen said. Instead, they would have to respond when emergency strikes.

Kiff said the reduced staffing might not make that much of a difference: "The ocean is a hazardous environment … We have lost people even at full staffing," he wrote.

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