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Opinion: Filling Special Interest Pockets At The Heart Of Junior Lifeguard HQ Proposal?

by Judy Swink, published

The proposed Aquatic Safety and Junior Lifeguard Facility is a beautiful design for a praiseworthy organization that we all can support in concept.

The Junior Lifeguard program provides an invaluable service working for safeguarding the aquatic safety of young people.

The important question, however, is whether a multi-million dollar, 9,000 sf facility that would serve almost exclusively administrative purposes for the Junior Lifeguard Foundation is an appropriate use of dedicated parkland? The administrative uses for this building have been glossed over in earlier presentations but the architect’s drawings make one point abundantly clear: This building is not to be a “training facility” for Junior Lifeguards but primarily offices and community rooms for hire. Offices can be located anywhere and the only water access requirement is for the classes themselves, which are held outdoors at the bay. =


I have serious concerns over the failure of a public process for this proposal before bringing it forward to council for the November 2018 ballot.

With no public notice beyond the Rules Committee docket and less than a month before the deadline for City Council decisions on City Charter measures for the November ballot, there has been almost no opportunity for public vetting or discussion.

Those of us who are speaking out only learned very recently that this Charter Amendment measure is to be considered by City Council in early August.


In February 2016, this same Charter Amendment request, described at that time as a “Junior Lifeguard Headquarters,” was presented to the City Council’s Charter Review Committee (CRC).

The CRC referred the request to the Mayor’s office, asking them to figure out how to accomplish the Foundation’s need without a City Charter amendment.

Yet, here we are again!

Clearly, as laid out in a City Attorney’s Legal Opinion in May 2015, there is no way to do so without a Charter Section 55 Amendment, plus, if in Mission Beach Park, a second ballot measure to amend Municipal Code language adopted from the 1987 “Save Mission Beach Park” initiative would be needed.


With no public discussion beyond a presentation to the Mission Beach Planning Board 3 years ago, what is the need to rush this request forward?

In July 2015, the Planning Board categorically rejected support for the project in Mission Beach Park. And, in February 2016, the Charter Review Committee declined to put the Foundation’s request for a Charter Amendment on the ballot.


The Junior Lifeguard Program currently has two offices, one at Santa Clara Recreation Center and another at Lifeguard Headquarters at Quivira Point. The Prevent Drowning Foundation cannot legally have an office in a City facility in dedicated parkland unless this Charter Amendment is approved by voters.

What is the Foundation’s operational need to have five offices in a new, separate, 9,000 sf administrative facility in Mission Bay Park or on the oceanfront?

What’s the purpose and need for a 2,660 sf “Junior Lifeguard Room?” How would this space be used when virtually all of the aquatic education & training classes, limited to 6-8 weeks only in summer, take place outdoors on the Bayside? How actively would the 9,000 sf building be used during the 10 months of the year when there are no training classes for Junior Lifeguards?

What is the need for five “Multi-Purpose Community Rooms” when the community room at Belmont Park is so seldom used?

And where is the need for a primarily administrative building on dedicated public parkland, a building that will provide very limited access for the general public and only at the behest of the organization that owns the building, undoubtedly for a fee?

Since 2016, the Foundation’s request has expanded to include Mission Bay Park. And yet, the Mission Bay Park Committee, the official advisory committee for planning in Mission Bay Park, has not received a presentation.

Is the Park and Recreation Board aware of this proposed amendment? This question is particularly pertinent because, even if a Charter change is made, it is probable that the Mission Bay Park Master Plan would need to be amended to accommodate a new leasehold, which must then go through costly environmental review then to the Coastal Commission for final approval.


Jumping the gun to ask voters to modify City Charter Section 55, before designated advisory committees and the public have had the opportunity to discuss these questions and considerations in order to make the proposal essentially a fait accompli project in Mission Bay Park following approval by voters, is inappropriate and further steepens the slippery slope to weakening park protections enshrined in Charter Section 55 since 1931.

The camel’s nose entered the tent in 2016 with enabling a simple majority to amend Charter Section 55 for a different educational institution. Concerns were expressed then that doing so would open a Pandora’s box.

During the same 2016 CRC hearings, a private charter school requested a Charter Amendment, which would have enabled the school to build a new, private school facility on Balboa Park land adjacent to 28th Street. Wisely, the CRC took no action, but it illustrates that such requests, once successful in getting to the ballot, will very likely be followed by more requests from other educational institutions.


Finally, we need to know where our City Council representatives stand on a Charter Amendment to enable this poorly thought-through administrative facility.

In particular, what will be the stance of our Council District 2 representative Lorie Zapf, whose District includes Mission Beach and Mission Bay, and whose Land Use Adviser Conrad Wear is the son of one of the proponents of the project?

Where does our Council District 1 representative Barbara Bry, whose District includes coastal shoreline parks, stand on amending the City Charter to change a crucial park protection section?

Or Council President Myrtle Cole who is continually fighting for more parks in her own district; will she support this proposed misuse of parkland in our regional parks?

And, how often do other Council members believe it’s appropriate to amend Charter parkland protections to the benefit of worthy though inconsistent with the Charter entities?

Fundamentally, it is wrong to amend Section 55 of the City Charter for the benefit of a single interest for a non-recreational administrative building that would have a limited role in the actual aquatic safety training of young people.

Judy Swink, a resident of San Diego since 1970, has been an active participant in Mission Bay Park planning issues since 1989. From 1991-1994, she represented Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3) throughout the Mission Bay Park Master Plan update process, and was appointed to the Mission Bay Park Committee in 1994. Following 18 years on Mission Bay Park Committee, Judy resigned in 2012 but has continued to take an interest in major planning issues related to Mission Bay and Balboa Parks. On November 27, 2012, the Mayor and City Council recognized her service by declaring it "Judith Swink Day."

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