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Budget cuts threaten Newport lifeguard staff

April 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Proposed budget cuts are going to make some Southern California beaches unsafe and have some people concerned. There's a new plan to cut lifeguard staffing along some parts of the coastline.

Leslie Ferguson watches her grandkids play on the beach. The Salt Lake City resident is among the 10 million people who visit Newport Beach each year.

"Since I'm bringing my grandchildren I'd like to have the safety issue. There needs to be a lifeguard," said Ferguson.

Under a budget proposal, 13 full-time lifeguards would be reduced to eight. The five year-round employees would become part-time, serving only during warm months.

"That gives us a weaker employee, one that doesn't have the knowledge, doesn't have the skills, doesn't have the professional background," said Brent Jacobsen, Lifeguard Management Association president.

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff says under his plan, he would keep about 200 seasonal lifeguards, but he insists the cuts to full-time employees are necessary, especially during the off-season.

"I don't think the city's taxpayers should have to fund someone's choices to go swimming in January or December when the waves are rougher, there's more risk. We don't need to have a Cadillac program like that," said Kiff.

"Don't people come to the beach year-round? They should find other ways to make the money. People's safety should come first," said Ferguson.

Kiff says so far, 25 city employees have received layoff notices. Services such as beach trash collection and parking meters would be outsourced under his plan. He says changes are needed to deal with rising pension costs and to save money for improvement projects.

Kiff says lifeguarding could be outsourced to private companies. Officials are also looking at lifeguarding with Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach.

The proposed cuts are expected to save a million dollars a year. Lifeguards worry it will mean less training and search-and-rescue drills would end.

The budget is expected to be presented to the Newport Beach City Council in May.