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Redondo Draws Line in the Sand Over County Plea for Funds : Beaches: South Bay cities asked to boost contributions for lifeguards, other services.

January 20, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Redondo Beach balked this week at a request from Los Angeles County for more money to help pay for lifeguards and groomers on public beaches there, and Manhattan Beach delayed its decision on the request.

The county Beaches and Harbors Department, which hires lifeguards for the beaches owned by the state, cities or county, is facing a $400,000 budget shortfall and requested an increase in funding from South Bay beach cities and the city of Avalon.

The county's 105 lifeguards watch over swimmers year-round on 31 miles of beaches, including those in the South Bay. City officials have said that many people other than city residents use the beaches, and that the county should pay for the services.

After the Hermosa Beach City Council reluctantly agreed recently to contribute $107,000 a year to help pay for the services, county officials were hopeful that Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach would follow suit.

The Redondo Beach council voted Tuesday against boosting its contribution from $140,000 to $200,000 a year. City officials there want assurance that all beach cities will pay their share, City Manager Bill Kirchhoff said.

The Manhattan Beach City Council, which had been scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday, postponed a decision for two weeks to research the matter.

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Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Beaches and Harbors Department, said the county cannot guarantee it will keep the lifeguards at Redondo Beach unless the city increases its contribution. The county, which pays $603,000 annually for services there, has a month-to-month contract with the city, he said.

Under the county's contract with the state, lifeguards will patrol the Manhattan Beach shoreline through June 30.

The county pays about $1.8 million annually to operate Manhattan Beach, one of the county's busiest beaches. The city contributes about $220,000 a year, which it collects from parking meters. County officials asked for an additional $200,000.

"I'm not in favor of giving the county money at this time," said Mayor Steve Napolitano, "and maybe never."

Manhattan Beach City Manager Bill Smith, saying nearly 5 million people visited the beach in 1992, added that since the influx brings the city little financial gain, the county should shoulder the burden. He recommended the council make a one-time contribution of $100,000, however, to demonstrate the city's goodwill.

"(Manhattan Beach) is not any kind of a gold mine," Smith said. "We don't have any hotels on the beach."

Avalon officials are expected to act on the matter Tuesday.

The issue of lifeguard funding ignited last summer when the county, facing its biggest fiscal crisis, announced it could no longer afford to provide guards and maintenance crews at beaches it owns.

Fees for prking and concession stands, and advertising on beach trash cans and lifeguard vehicles offset only a portion of the costs, county officials said.

They threatened to cut off service to city-owned Hermosa Beach if the council fails to contribute $200,000. City officials said the city pays nearly $300,000 a year in beach-related costs, but agreed to pay for restroom maintenance and to allow the county to expand advertising along the beach, moves that are expected to generate $107,000 annually.

After the agreement was reached, the County Board of Supervisors voted to continue services at Hermosa Beach through June.

City Councils in Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach fear the county will demand more money as soon as additional city contributions are approved. They say they will feel better about increasing contributions after the county develops a long-term plan for the beaches.

The county's policy guidelines on lifeguards and beach maintenance crews are expected to be completed next month.

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