Lifeguard protection coming to north Carlsbad beaches

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The city of Carlsbad will provide lifeguard services and increased law enforcement this summer along the beach from Oak Avenue to the city’s northern border in a pilot program running from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Most of coastal North County’s beaches, including all of the ones in Carlsbad, belong to the state of California and are managed by the California State Parks Department. But the half-mile stretch of beach north of Oak Avenue to the Oceanside border is fronted by bluff-top homes, and residents in the past have objected to lifeguard protection due to what they consider unsightly lifeguard towers.

So the city has never contracted with the state to extend lifeguard protection north, even though there are half a dozen access points with recently enhanced signage.

The drowning death last summer of a 72-year-old man brought the issue to the forefront again, prompting the Council to take action.

The northern beaches, however, won’t be patrolled by state lifeguards, who watch over the remaining six miles or so of public beach within the city limits.

Rather, the Carlsbad Fire Department will oversee the lifeguard program, which will include guards at as many as three locations, vehicle patrols, access to personal watercraft and other rescue vehicles, new signage and prevention activities.

The city of Carlsbad Police Department will assign patrols to the area on major holidays and conduct additional foot patrols as needed.

Staff will report back to City Council with the results of the program after Labor Day.

The pilot program, approved by the City Council on April 11, has a budget of $300,000 and will include:

• Two full-time Fire Department personnel trained in ocean rescue redeployed from current assignments (those assignments will be covered with existing staff. Overtime costs are part of the budget).

• Four part-time lifeguards hired for the summer season.

• 12-hour shifts with vehicle patrol and staff at three fixed locations along the .75 mile of beach.

• Extra police patrols on holidays and as needed throughout the summer.

“We built this pilot program based on what we know today,” said Fire Chief Mike Davis. “One of the goals of the pilot program is to gather data on beach usage and conditions so we can return with a recommendation for the long term need after summer.”

The pilot program does not include lifeguard towers because putting structures like that on the beach requires a permitting process, according to Davis. Instead, guards will be in vehicles or tall lifeguard chairs for now.

The City Council also asked staff to get input on the use of gates. Two of the seven beach access points along Ocean Street currently have gates that lock overnight. The pilot program will evaluate gate usage and include a recommendation after summer.

The recommended long-term plan could include partnerships with agencies that already have lifeguard programs. Parks & Recreation Director Chris Hazeltine said an agreement like this couldn’t be developed in time for the summer pilot program.

The beach from Oak Avenue to the northern city limit is not part of the California State Parks system, which includes Carlsbad State Beach from around Pine Avenue South to Terramar and South Carlsbad State Beach from the state campground to the southern city limit. State lifeguards patrol these areas. In the north, property owners own the beach directly in front of their properties out to what is called the “mean high tide line,” which is generally where the water meets the sand during high tide.

The city of Carlsbad maintains public easements on this property, which allow people to utilize the beach and the city to provide services.

In recent years, the number of people using this part of the beach has increased, prompting safety concerns. The city of Carlsbad police and fire departments respond to emergency calls in this area but do not patrol the beach like lifeguards would.

The city held a public meeting and gathered input online over the past few weeks “to ensure the pilot program reflected the community’s current priorities,” the city says in a news release.

During annual goal-setting sessions the past few years, the Carlsbad City Council has made beach improvements one of its top priorities. City staff are working on a number of projects along the city’s nearly seven miles of coastline, including sprucing up the seven public beach entrances along Ocean Street and making them more visible.

The city has already completed projects to widen bike lanes along Carlsbad Boulevard, improve the accessibility of the Ocean Street public parking lot, put new drought proof landscaping along the beach bluff north of Tamarack to prevent erosion and installed crosswalks with flashing lights to make it safer to cross Carlsbad Boulevard.

Longer- term projects include redesigning portions of Carlsbad Boulevard to ease traffic flow, make more room for walking and biking, and maximize access to the coast.

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