Lori Donchak
Lori Donchak

By City Council member Lori Donchak

In the last fiscal year, San Clemente Lifeguards rescued 1,521 swimmers in distress, warned 22,897 visitors of dangerous ocean conditions, performed 1,439 medical aids and finished the year with no drownings. This is a distinguished report card. In fact, for a community that hosts more than 2 million beach visitors annually, this is nothing short of impressive.

So, it’s no surprise that City Council unanimously supported a project to rehabilitate lifeguard headquarters as part of the annual budget process. Built in 1968 and well-known for its 40-foot clock tower, the 50-year-old building is the consistent target of relentless marine conditions. Wear and tear is so severe that initial rehabilitation options explored moving lifeguard headquarters away from the tidelines.

Possible locations included across the tracks on the inland side of the Pier Bowl, as well as various beach-side locations much closer to the beach trail, at T-Street or North Beach. Part of the decision process concerned the role of the California Coastal Commission. Moving headquarters from its existing footprint would add state approvals—and therefore time and money—to the process. An even more significant consideration concerned potentially bad impacts on safety operations. Marine safety relies on quick response. Proximity to the ocean is essential to quick response. For these reasons, rehabilitation at the current location makes the most sense.

City Council allocated $1.2 million for the lifeguard headquarters repair. Chief merits of the project are strengthened concrete support beams and pilings and a new metal sheet pile wall (with concrete cap) to protect the building and foundation from wave damage and sand erosion. A new deck, exterior trim and facing repair and some walkway and parking area improvements are also included. According to San Clemente’s Public Works Director Tom Bonigut, the building hasn’t had significant attention since 1986. He estimates improvements to add at least 10 years to the life of this iconic city-owned building.

Construction is anticipated to kick off in September. Expect no interruption in services, as the Marine Safety Division is staffed from 8 a.m. to dusk 365 days a year, with the five lifeguard towers staffed as needed during the off-season. Even the popular beach web-camera, which is installed on the clock-tower and streams on www.san-clemente.org will be operational. (A fun bit of San Clemente trivia: thanks to the surfing community, San Clemente Beach-Cam receives the most visits on the city website).

Finally, as we enter the summer season, some important reminders on beach safety. Always swim near a lifeguard and always swim with a buddy. Obey posted warnings. If you surf, leash your board, be courteous on the waves, and avoid twilight hours. It’s also a good idea to enroll your kids in San Clemente’s outstanding Junior Lifeguard program. Call 949.361.8261 for more information.

I’m both grateful for and proud of the men and women who choose to be Lifeguards in San Clemente. Public safety at the beach is one tough career choice, and this year’s safety record shows just how fortunate we are to have the very best folks on the job. Feel free to drop me a message at donchakl@san-clemente.org.

Lori Donchak is a San Clemente City Council member who was elected in 2006. She served as mayor in 2009 and 2011.

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