This story has been amended from its print addition to reflect addition information from the city not available at press time.
By Pat Sherman
The new lifeguard tower at La Jolla Shores has actually made the beach there
safe than it was before the $3.8 million facility opened, said San Diego Lifeguard Union spokesperson Ed Harris.
At several times of the day, Harris said, the lifeguard views from the upper observation booth are being obscured by light distortion, diffraction, refraction, glare and reflection, in part because the proper positioning and type of glass were not used for the windows, he said.
Though in some regards the Shores’ new cantilevered lifeguard tower could be considered a marvel of modern engineering, Harris said it should be awarded an architectural “onion” because the most important aspect of it — lifeguards’ ability to see the water — is diminished.
“We have asked (the city) on numerous occasions to address those issues,” said Harris, adding that the city is still trying to determine who is at fault. “In the meantime, lifeguards can’t safely watch the water from that observation tower.”
Harris said windows on the sides of the tower were not properly sloped, creating further visibility problems.
“The sun at certain times of the day acts like a projector … taking people on the south side of the tower and projecting their image on the northernmost observation glass, like you’re looking at a TV screen,” Harris said. “It prevents lifeguards from seeing people adequately on the north side (of the beach).”
In addition, a blur exists in corners where the glass meets, creating distortion akin to wearing eyeglasses with the wrong prescription, Harris said.
John Robinson, a spokesperson for the City of San Diego's Public Works Department, said the reflection and distortion became apparent after the glass was installed in the summer of 2013.
"Subsequently, two types of window tint were tested on the interior side of the glass windows. While each tint reduced the glare and distortion, it became apparent that further study is required to identify the cause of the problem," Robinson said, via e-mail, adding that an expert specializing in glazing issues will assess the problem this month. Their recommendation should be implemented by summer, he said.
To safeguard the public in the meantime, San Diego Lifeguard Capt. Nick Lerma said lifeguards are staffing a portable tower near the new tower during limited times in the afternoon, when the glare problem is present. Lifeguards will continue to monitor the beach from the new tower during that time.
"These measures will provide redundant observational safety coverage until the glare issue is resolved," Lerma said.
Even with additional staffing in the portable tower, Harris said, "come summertime we’re concerned because we don’t have the proper observation (capabilities) in the main tower. Clearly the Shores is not as safe as it was prior to installing the new tower.”
Harris later said an examination of other lifeguard towers throughout the city reveals that "all of our towers run into an unusual amount of problems ... largely due to design, low bid and failure of the Development Services Department."
Jill Esterbrooks, a spokesperson for the office of District 1 San Diego City Council representative Sherri Lightner, said the city is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
“At this point we’re trying not to point fingers and do the blame game," she said of the tower, designed by Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects. "We’re just trying to figure out what we can do to resolve it so that the lifeguards can do their job and the public can be safe.”