Thank you for inviting me to your monthly meeting to listen to Ed Harris present his case for your support. As a former San Diego Lifeguard, I was interested in hearing his plea to Democrats for help in swaying the San Diego City Council. His quest as Union Steward for Teamsters 911 is to build and replace three Lifeguard Towers in Ocean Beach, South Mission Beach, and North Pacific Beach.
I agree that these City infrastructure projects are probably ripe, because of the low cost of current construction in this economic recession. Having worked at all these towers in the past, I agree that they are out of date and require constant upgrades, for such beach safety stations are necessary and appropriate. They are all major projects, costing millions, and must take into account long-term issues like sea level rise and changing beach demographics.
I worked with Ed Harris as a lifeguard from 2000-2009, and know the lifeguard management well. However, after watching Harris squirm and wiggle, and try to contort and reinvent himself at the Club meeting on February 24, 2013, just to gain Democratic support, I think your members should know some more about the San Diego Lifeguard service and it’s history.
You should know that the San Diego Lifeguards have traditionally supported Republican and independent (Libertarian) politicians. In his leadership roll for Teamsters 911, Ed Harris publicly supported Nathan Fletcher for Mayor. The Lifeguard split with the Municipal Employees Association (MEA) was likely a result of such political forces. Regardless of their individual political bias, the Lifeguards are primarily self-interested, and Ed is fighting for their share of the City pie, else other City departments scoop it up.
This year the Lifeguard budget increased by $2.4-million (15% over 2012). They are some of the highest paid Lifeguards on the planet. Yet their ranks contain barriers to women and minorities, often resulting in costly court cases. Once you see the real salaries and benefits costs, you’ll understand why these Lifeguard Jobs are so highly prized. If the City were more transparent, it would publish all such compensation numbers for public service positions, but would probably put the voters into shock.
I’ve included information sheets to give you some ideas about the facts, and remind you about various issues within the Lifeguard Service.
The sources are public documents and reports. I hope you will read these documents, so that you have all the facts necessary when considering how to make up your mind about supporting our Lifeguard Services in San Diego.
My point is simply this, although I naturally support lifeguards goals of public safety, the money for infrastructure improvements should not come from our City’s General Funds, especially in these times of critical financial stress. All money for tourist infrastructure, such as new beach stations, should be generated by coastal business interests. As you will see, there is also plenty of money in the Lifeguard’s $17-million dollar per year budget for all necessary improvements. If they would only reduce their maximum lifeguard compensation to just 150% the Average Household Income of the citizens they serve, all these improvements could be funded along with the critical outreach necessary to educate San Diego’s youth and build a more diverse workforce. But these Lifeguard Teamsters will not sacrifice their pay for public safety.
As a former lifeguard, it is my firm belief that every child that grows up in San Diego has a right to be safe in the ocean, to learn to swim, and to understand and enjoy the unparalleled environments along our coast. These resources are our shared heritage, and should not be limited to the elite, wealthy community, that can afford to live along the shore. Unfortunately, a quick review of our annual lifeguard service photos will reveal a bleached beach tribe that rarely resembles the diverse demographics of San Diego.
The attached documents show that the Lifeguard Service is historically a classic ‘old boys network’ and lacks the diversity and inclusiveness necessary in a large urban population, such as San Diego. These are the best paid Lifeguards on the planet, with many costing the city >$100,000/year (see Lifeguard salaries 2013). Yet, they keep these highly privileged jobs sequestered in a closed community, above a “glass celling”, an invisible barrier within the ranks, and most San Diego Citizens will never have the opportunity to participate or compete for these high paying jobs in public safety. Women make up less than 10% of the full-time lifeguards. Traditionally under-represented groups are almost non existent. Our children are often not trained in basic beach safety skills because they lack the wealth and resources necessary to access our beach areas, for even our public swimming pools are closed due to budget cuts. This is unacceptable, the ocean belongs to all of us.
Given the current and ongoing history of gender and minority discrimination within the San Diego Lifeguard Service, and their failure to diversify Lifeguard management, before Democrats sign up as support, we should make sure that all possible measures are taken to correct these historical injustices. Lifeguard attempts to become more inclusive of our local population have always trailed the demographics. Their outreach has been quite limited, and training programs such as Junior Lifeguard are generally reserved to those wealthy patrons grandfathered into the beach community. Further, since the budget cuts took effect in 2009, City Lifeguards have cut all “Outreach Services” from programs such as operation “Waterproof San Diego” to protect their employee salaries. These programs were good and should be fully restored and funded before we start spending additional money from the general fund on non-critical improvements such as new stations.
Due to your hard work and success, Democrats have a very short window of just a few years to demonstrate good government for the City of San Diego. If we miss this historic opportunity to deal with these issues of elitism, and they are not corrected, then our opponents will use things like high Lifeguard salaries as evidence of our unwise union largess, while calling attention to the deteriorating City infrastructure and services.
The unfair distribution of resources and opportunities across the City is a historical remnant of the corruption caused by land developers, Point Loma Democrats know this well, but we can now begin to correct the injustice. Fear of tax increases could potentially reverse the close election results, and win back a majority of San Diego’s Council seats for those who would continue to stratify our society. This would doom the next generation of Lifeguards to the same old patterns. We can break the glass-celing for women in our safety services, end the covert rejection of minorities, and correct the imbalances in opportunities between rich and poor. My hope is that by using your political influence, Democrats can finally discard the old boys systems, and open our beaches to everyone.
Thanks for your consideration of this information and my opinions,
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Point Loma Democratic Club of which he is not a member.
- Why Some Tourism Marketing District Dollars Need To Go To Lifeguards (peninsulademocrat.wordpress.com)
- Feb 24 – Lifeguards, Beaches and Politics – Strange but Necessary Bedfellows (peninsulademocrat.wordpress.com)