Encinitas budget adds lifeguard coverage, towers


Inside the Moonlight Beach lifeguard tower, Encinitas Capt. Larry Giles gazed out at the ocean through binoculars. He closely watched a skiff that was having a difficult time docking at an offshore platform.

Downstairs, a crying youth was being treated for a stingray injury. Moments later, a lifeguard bolted down the tower stairs and rushed out to the surf to aid a struggling swimmer.

With Moonlight Beach and other city beaches gaining in popularity, such instances are becoming more common for Encinitas lifeguards. To keep up with the sharp increase in people, the recently adopted city budget includes an additional $153,541 for seasonal lifeguard staffing annually.

The budget also earmarked funds for two new lifeguard towers so lifeguards can keep an eye on crowds that spread out in search of towel space.

“There’s just more people in Encinitas and the county — period,” Giles said. “This translates to more people at our beaches.”

One of the new lifeguard towers will be placed at Sylvia Street, just north of the epicenter of Moonlight Beach. The other will go near the Seabluffe complex in Leucadia. These areas have dangerous rip currents and are a significant distance from the current lifeguard towers, Giles said.

Giles said the two lifeguard towers still need to be constructed, so they might not debut until next spring. Combined, the towers will run $86,891, with an additional $13,410 for associated equipment.

He stated in past years Encinitas had around 35 seasonal lifeguards for city beach operations, and with the new budget, he’s hiring another 10 seasonal lifeguards this summer. There are four full-time city lifeguards, a number that will remain the same.

Bolstered summertime staffing, at an annual cost of $74,572, includes:

• Extra weekday coverage for two towers during two weeks of June;

• An EMT to triage patients at the Moonlight Beach tower;

• A second person in vehicles for emergency calls, because there’s often only one, operating below national lifeguard standards;

• An extra two hours of coverage for “north tower,” as well as a person to cover lifeguard breaks and emergency calls.

During the other three seasons, it will cost $78,969 annually for additional part-time staffing. That includes extra coverage at Swami’s Beach, which was previously unstaffed during weekends from October through April.

Giles said this is a response to summer-level crowds now hitting local beaches year-round.

“When it’s busy and we’re short-staffed, we can only be reactive,” he said. “We want to be out there making contacts and educating people, if the surf conditions are dangerous, as an example.”

Various projects have made local beaches a magnet for visitors, Giles said. He cited a 2013 revamp of Moonlight Beach that saw a new concession building and restrooms. And sand replenishment projects over the past two decades widened local beaches, he added.

Other factors driving the beachgoer increase: more special events and added surf PE classes.

City stats show 837,061 people came to Moonlight Beach in 2014, up from 543,290 in 2013. Katherine Weldon, the city’s shoreline preservation manager, said people are counted via heat sensor equipment.

Additional money for the city’s lifeguard program competed against a multitude of other projects and staffing requests during the budget process.

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer this week said the council recognized the need without much discussion. She added lifeguards were due for a staffing increase, since more people are coming to Encinitas’ beaches.

“Those lifeguards are the first line of human safety and education,” Shaffer said.