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La Jolla Town Council hopes to save lifeguards from budget cuts

La Jolla Town Council members will ask that an exception be made to protect local lifeguard services from the 17 percent across-the-board budget cut called for by Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Their unanimous vote to send a letter to Sanders and the City Council last week followed a presentation by Gavin McBride of the San Diego Association of Lifeguards.

“We believe that a 17 percent cut for our organization would have catastrophic consequences on the beaches and residents in the coastal community,” said McBride, noting San Diego lifeguards’ workload is enormous because the fair climate makes it such a popular tourist attraction year-round.

McBride noted there are 22.3 million visitors to San Diego’s beaches and bays and that lifeguards perform more than 5,000 water rescues, 3,500 medical aids and 30 cliff rescues annually.

More important, said McBride, are the 200,000-plus preventative acts lifeguards perform each year and the educational outreach they provide about water safety that really makes a difference.

“The bulk of what we do on a daily basis is prevention, warning people away from rip currents, moving swimmers out of surfing areas, etc.,” said McBride. “Lifeguards are the only public agency that does water rescues. We’re the first line of defense when it involves medical response or water rescues in the coastal communities. If lifeguards services are reduced — nobody’s coming to help you in the water.”

McBride told Town Council members the budget for city lifeguard services is already lean, with 85 percent of the department’s $16 million annual budget committed to personnel expenses.

Future budget cuts will translate into more personnel cuts, which will mean serious manpower shortages, he added.

“We can’t sustain a 17 percent cut,” said McBride. “We won’t be able to provide the same level of services. We’d have to cut more than half of our 55 active, permanent, year-round field staff that we have right now.”

Cuts of that magnitude, he added, could remove lifeguards from heavily used beaches, reduce staffing levels at some beaches to one-person stations and reduce, or eliminate, the night crew at the Boating Safety Unit.

Those opposing such deep lifeguard cuts can e-mail their views to www.san

diego.gov.

In other matters, Anne Kerr Bache, chairwoman for the Town Council Christmas Parade, reported $10,000 is still needed to cover the cost of the Dec. 6 community parade and holiday festival.

La Jolla Community Planning Association president Joe LaCava noted another holiday fundraising drive to raise nearly $7,000 needed to put up the season’s greeting sign on Torrey Pines Road and to decorate the Village with banners and lights is approaching its goal.

“We have $5,400 of the $6,700 price because a lot of good people have stepped up, and we need to make that last little push,” he said.

Town Council trustees also unanimously approved closing Prospect Street in front of Jose’s Courtroom on parade day for the restaurant’s nationally sanctioned flauta-eating contest.