As the busy summer season gets underway, Ventura County officials are proposing to trim lifeguard patrols at three popular beaches to help close a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
Harbor Director Lyn Krieger is recommending that lifeguards be posted at Hollywood, Silver Strand and Kiddie beaches near Oxnard from Fridays through Mondays instead of every day.
With the county facing a projected $17.6-million deficit in the 2002-03 budget, the Harbor Department was forced to find a way to cut expenses, Krieger said.
State beaches in Ventura County will also see a 20% cut in lifeguards because of proposed funding reductions. With fewer eyes to help them out, families are being warned to be extra vigilant when visiting the coast this summer.
"Stay away from rip currents and ... stay close to towers that are guarded," said Richard A. Rojas, superintendent for state beaches in Ventura and Oxnard. "And if someone can't swim, they shouldn't be in the water. Period."
All beaches will be fully staffed for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of the sand-and-surf season.
Daily patrols will continue through June at the county-operated beaches, but then the reduced schedule will begin unless the Board of Supervisors agrees to restore about $50,000 to the Harbor Department's budget.
Residents of the unincorporated areas adjacent to Silver Strand, Hollywood and Kiddie beaches have already started lobbying the Board of Supervisors to maintain daily patrols.
In a letter to the board, Vickie Finan said visitors who swim and frolic near the ocean are unaware of rip currents and other dangers that have led to drownings in recent years.
Public safety should be a priority as supervisors wrestle with difficult budget decisions, said Finan, president of the local community services district.
"The county invites millions of people to come to their beaches and I think they should have lifeguards to protect those beaches," she said.
Supervisor John Flynn, whose district includes some of the beach areas, said he favors finding the money to maintain patrols.
"This is a safety issue, so we need to try to respond to that in some way," Flynn said.
Finan said the county should spend less on beach maintenance to free up money. But Krieger said that could be dangerous because beach walkers may be injured by sticks, shells and glass shards hidden in the sand.
Public restrooms need to be cleaned regularly to avoid health hazards, the harbor director said.
She tried to cushion the service cuts, Krieger said, by keeping beach patrols during the busiest weekend periods.
Midweek visitors who need help will have to call 911, she said.
"We always tell people that whether or not a lifeguard is there, you should take a lot of responsibility for yourself and be careful," Krieger said.
Lifeguards will continue to staff towers at state beaches in the county, but some patrols will be scaled back, Rojas said. San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura, for instance, is usually patrolled by three lifeguards daily during summer, he said.
But this year, the seasonal guards will not be out if the weather is gray and gloomy, Rojas said.
Fewer lifeguards will be on duty toward the end of the day, and swimmers may be asked to move near towers that are staffed, the parks superintendent said.
"We're kind of tweaking the system to make sure the public benefits," he said. "But we're looking for visitors to be smarter."
Ventura's city beaches near the pier and at Marina Park will have daily patrols, Rojas added. The city contracts with the state to receive lifeguard services, so there will be no interruption, he said.