City plans $3M marine safety center at Moonlight Beach


When the lifeguard tower at Moonlight Beach was built around 1960, Encinitas was a small beachside community that was part of unincorporated San Diego County, and the 288-square-foot facility was designed to house two or three lifeguards.

Today, the building is a hub for a lifeguard service with five year-round employees and 50 seasonal lifeguards, who provide a variety of services for Encinitas’ popular beaches, which drew an estimated 2.5 million visitors in 2013.

Not only is the headquarters too small — it’s been expanded over the years to 1,152 square feet — but it’s falling apart, afflicted by concrete and termite damage, a leaky roof and other structural problems, said Capt. Larry Giles, who oversees the city’s lifeguard division.

The city is moving forward with plans to replace the aging structure with a new, 2,200-square-foot marine safety headquarters.

“We’ve been Band-Aiding it as far as repairs and maintenance. We knew it would be replaced, so we’ve been limping along,” said Giles. “It was never designed to do what it’s doing now, and never designed to last this long.”

One example of the tower’s inadequacy regards patients who come in or are brought by lifeguards for treatment of ailments and injuries ranging from sting-ray and jellyfish stings to falls from the beach-side bluffs.

Patients are triaged, and either sent to the hospital or picked up by friends or family for a trip to the doctor’s office, Giles said.

“It’s just ridiculously tight. A lot of times, our patients are lying on the sidewalk in front of our facility,” with no privacy, Giles said. “It’s not a good way of doing business. The city recognizes that and we’re trying to correct it.”

One past stumbling block in replacing the lifeguard structure has been the cost: Design and construction are estimated at just under $3 million. Several years ago, the lifeguard headquarters was part of a project that included a new concessions building and restrooms at Moonlight Beach. Because of funding constraints, the lifeguard station was postponed while the other renovations were completed last year.

Now, the city is working on plans to issue $13 million in lease revenue bonds that would pay for the marine safety headquarters at Moonlight Beach and the $10 million purchase of the 2.8-acre Pacific View property from the Encinitas Union School District.

No public vote is needed because, unlike general obligation bonds, no property tax increase would be linked to the sale of the bonds, said Tim Nash, city finance director. Instead, the city would pay the annual debt service of about $730,000 from its general fund, Nash said.

The interest rate on the 30-year bonds would be about 3.8 percent.

The council previously voted to direct city staff to prepare the bond documents, and staff will have to return to the council for final approval of the bond sale, possibly in October, said Nash.

Because the city has the highest rating possible for this type of bond, AA-plus, the bonds will be highly sought-after in the municipal bond market, Nash said. “There will not be a problem selling the bonds,” he said.

The plan is to replace the tower with the new marine safety center at exactly the same spot, at the south end of Moonlight Beach near the dead end of C Street. In addition, the city plans to use the same architect who did the recent renovations at Moonlight, said Ed Deane, deputy director of the city’s engineering department.

The goal is to start construction after Labor Day of 2015, and complete the work by Memorial Day 2016, said Deane. If environmental work and permitting are not completed in time, construction would shift to 2016, he said.

Preparations will include archaeological site studies. Pre-construction studies of the area before the new concession stand and restrooms were built turned up evidence of fire rings that may have been used by local Native American tribes to process whale blubber on the beach, Deane said.

City officials emphasized that the new station will house many functions, among them administration of the lifeguard division, a first-aid station and a dispatch center. A small workspace will also be provided for the Sheriff’s Department.

“It contains many more functions than just a simple lifeguard tower,” Deane said.