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City Council explores solutions to lifeguard cuts, fire pit removal

News that La Jolla’s beaches would be short four lifeguards and fire pits throughout the city would be removed has many wanting fast action to prevent these changes. The changes came in the city’s latest round of emergency budget paring to slice a projected $179 million budget deficit in FY 2010-11.

Both cost-saving measures were proposed in an 18-month budget plan the City Council finalized Dec. 14, which calls for about 200 city workers to lose their jobs and municipal services to be trimmed.

One solution the City Council has considered to save the lifeguard positions would involve selling lifeguard vehicle sponsorship rights to Japanese automaker Toyota.

Think it’s a crazy notion? In these austere times of ever-tightening fiscal belts, no idea for saving a dollar here or there seems too wild to consider, said Alex Roth, spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

“This is not unprecedented,” he said. “We’ve (the city’s) done sponsorships like this in the past. In these times, it’s something the city has to consider. We welcome all ideas that might be mutually beneficial for the city.”

Roth noted General Motors, from 2002 to 2005, leased 34 lifeguard vehicles to the city for three years.

“In exchange, we promoted General Motors as the official vehicle partner of the city of San Diego,” Roth said. “Their logos were on the vehicles and we had some press events touting them. Things like this are something we’re looking at now, exploring a couple of different options.”

The Dec. 14 budget-cutting package eliminates four lifeguard positions previously stationed at Black’s Beach, which will present some real logistical problems patrolling the beaches in La Jolla, lifeguard Lonnie Stephens told the La Jolla Shores Association at its December meeting.

“There’s always a ripple effect when an emergency happens,” he said. “With Black’s Beach closed as of Jan. 1, when you have an emergency there the closest lifeguard personnel is at La Jolla Shores and they’ll have to respond, and that will leave the Shores vulnerable for any incident that happens during that time they’re responding to Black’s.”

Stephens said he’s amazed by all the activities — dive classes, kayak tours, surfers, Torrey Pines Gliderport flyers — that go on in and around the Shores, which lifeguards have to respond to during emergencies.

“Last year, we had 30 cliff rescues and more than 500 water rescues from Point Loma to Black’s Beach,” Stephens said. “There are major rip currents at Black’s all the time. Your lifeguard service is about to become emaciated.”

Stacy LoMedico, city Park and Recreation Department director, said fire pits were also targeted for elimination in the mayor’s budget, but added there still is some time to save them.

“Fire pits are funded through the end of June so they will not be removed prior to July 1,” she said. “The city still has its fire pit fund program. We’re encouraging people to donate to the fund.”

LoMedico said April is the deadline for the fire pit fundraising campaign to raise the $120,500 annual cost of maintaining the fire pits, which includes the cost of salaries and equipment.

For more information visit www.sandiego.gov/philanthropycenter/opportunities/firepit.shtml.