San Diego, CA. - There is no debating the value of the San Diego Junior Lifeguard program. Now in its third decade, the program gives kids ages 7 to 17 the opportunity to learn a litany of useful skills including: first aid and CPR, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, water rescue techniques, the importance of physical fitness and techniques to improve their swimming skills.
In short, it's a great program, and the community knows it.
Now, with help from the City of San Diego, the Junior Lifeguard Foundation established in 2009, now known as the Prevent Drowning Foundation (PDFSD), is working quietly to build a "beachfront development" on Mission Beach.
The "Aquatic Safety & Lifeguard Center" has already gone through the City Council Rules Committee, and is scheduled to be heard before the City Council on August 6th 7th. The council will then decide if the citizen’s proposed ballot measure will go to the voters this November, ultimately allowing the public to decide if the facility in Mission Beach or Mission Bay parkland should be an allowed use in the area.
In the Rules Committee hearing, Councilmembers Mark Kersey, Chris Ward and Council President Myrtle Cole raised some concerns.
Councilmember Kersey's office sent IVN San Diego the following statement, "Councilman Kersey supports the need of a Junior Lifeguard training and educational facility, but believes the previously proposed location in Mission Beach Park may not be the optimal location. He encourages the Foundation to perform robust community engagement efforts with additional vetting and community input to find the best location for the program’s future success."
The PDFSD Plan
The Prevent Drowning Foundation's relationship with the City of San Diego is causing concern among members of the Mission Beach Precise Planning Group, Mission and Pacific Beach Town Councils, the San Diego Lifeguards, and residents who see an effort to "take advantage of the great name of the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Program."
On its website, PDFSD claims three top priorities for 2018:
- To “waterproof" San Diego,
- To support scholarship funding for the City’s Junior Lifeguards and,
- To establish an Aquatic Safety & Lifeguard Center.
Greg “Buck” Buchanan, PDFSD President and retired City of San Diego Lifeguard Lieutenant has not returned IVN San Diego requests for comment. In a recent interview with Voice of San Diego on establishing the Aquatic Safety & Lifeguard Center Buchanan noted, “We envision it being a focal point for aquatics for the bay and the ocean,” says Buchanan. “Our goal is to raise the money through private donors, build the Center, and then gift it back to the City of San Diego for the community to use for future generations.”
It's that private donor piece of the equation, the location of the center, and what some are calling a vague MOU with the City of San Diego that has groups concerned.
Removing Parkland and The MOU
The proposed development, which would replace parkland just south of the Belmont Park Roller Coaster in Mission Beach, the last undeveloped open space where residents can view both Mission Bay and the ocean, is likely worth tens of millions of dollars.
Replacing that parkland with development requires an amendment to the municipal code and city charter. Sources have told IVN San Diego that the project hasn't been brought before the Mission Bay Park Committee which is a mayoral appointed body. IVN San Diego has reached out to the committee for comment.
As for the MOU, the second page of the 4 page document outlines a vague power and control structure between the City of San Diego and Foundation.
Section h. reads the new facility gives the Foundation power to control the sites construction and be given office and storage space. It doesn't define the size of those spaces nor dictate the locations within the structure.
Section i. of the MOU reads the Foundation and city agree to share resources, facilities and donations. It appears the Foundation could build a storefront on the boardwalk, lease space to other businesses and fundraisers and collect the profits.
IVN San Diego has reached out to the city and additional members of the Foundation for comment but hasn't heard back.
Amending the City Charter and Municipal Code
John Valles has raised concerns with this plan since 2015 when it went before the Mission Beach Precise Planning Group (MBPPG), Valles told IVN San Diego,"My daughter is a Junior Lifeguard and I love it, it's one of the best programs ever. The issue we have is with this plan and the Foundation." Valles continued, "The Foundation is usurping the community, and the planning process. To get this private building completed, they need to amend the City Charter and the Municipal Code. Not to mention the safety concerns for the kids."
Those safety concerns are outlined below.
Valles is supportive of a plan to build a new center on the bay, "Why not develop on the bay where there are far fewer hurdles than an area, the boardwalk, that's already impacted everyday? I don't want to stop the process, I want to be able to create a scenario to allow for expansion of the program. But for a massive development that will have huge impacts on the community, the communication has been so poor and the location is so rife with issues that it's impossible for the community to get behind."
Safety Concerns with Location
The Junior Lifeguard Program takes place each summer and includes two sessions. The first session dates are June 18 – July 13 and the second session dates are July 23 – August 17. The camp is currently based at the Santa Clara Recreation Center and activities take place at a variety of San Diego City beaches.
Santa Clara Recreation Center
Critics argue the new location on the boardwalk is being rushed without critical considerations including:
- Parents picking up kids at one of the busiest parking lots in the city, in the middle of summer,
- And, kids running across Mission Boulevard with Lifeguard equipment to go to the bay for training.
In conversations with community leaders, the location at Mariner's point and Bonita Cove is a "workable" solution, although not ideal.
Denise Friedman is a Director with the Pacific Beach Town Council. She is staunchly opposed to the effort. Friedman told IVN San Diego, "This is all happening so fast, I hold the mayor responsible for this. The City Council Rules Committee was not happy about this. I don't know what the powers are behind it, but this smells."
Friedman supports the planning process and the adherence to community master plans, "even if they move it to Bonita Cove it would not be in compliance or approved with the Mission Beach Master Plan."
The proposed development raises some important political questions that IVN San Diego will be raising with elected officials.
With this proposed development in District 2, will it impact Councilmember Lorie Zapf's City Council race in November? Zapf is facing a credible challenger in Dr. Jennifer Campbell.
Will Councilmembers Mark Kersey and Chris Ward and Council President Myrtle Cole act on their concerns raised at the Rules committee and refuse to put the development plan on the November ballot?
And will the necessary changes to the municipal code and city charter elicit legal challenges?