The effort to construct a new Junior Lifeguard headquarters, to be used by about 1,400 students in the summer, then repurposed for public use the rest of the year, was dealt a setback by the City Council.
On Aug. 6, the Council voted 4-2, with Council members Sherman, Ward and Cate absent, against putting the measure on the November election ballot.
The City Attorney’s office had previously ruled that a ballot measure was needed, because the new aquatic facility would be a non-recreational use on City parkland.
The San Diego Junior Lifeguard Program employs professional lifeguards instructing youth ages 7 through 17 on ocean safety, including water-rescue techniques, first aid and CPR. The program includes development of swimming and surfing skills while involving beach games and competitive events.
Currently operating out of Santa Clara Point Recreation Center, some believe the facility is overcrowded and inadequate for the junior lifeguard program’s needs.
Reacting to the Council’s Aug. 6 vote, Corey McClelland, volunteer CEO/board chair of the nonprofit Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego, formerly the Junior Lifeguard Foundation, said the board vote will delay, not kill, the project.
“It’s a long process,” said McClelland. “We’ve been in it for five years, and we’re not going to go away. It’s sorely needed for the students, the lifeguards and San Diego.”
Noting junior lifeguard station proponents are now “probably two years away from getting to a point where we can get it on the ballot,” McClelland added, “We need to work with all the constituents, the City Park and Rec Department, the lifeguards and the community” to move the project forward.
Originally, a new junior lifeguard facility had been envisioned near Belmont Park. But proponents are now seeking a spot somewhere west of Ingraham Street on Mission Bay.
In an Aug. 1 letter to the City Council, McClelland wrote: “If voters approve this measure, the PDFSD will then begin site analysis west of Mission Bay … Our planning process will involve continuing our outreach to community groups along with operation program review, environmental analysis, traffic studies and plan amendments that may be required.”
In his board letter, McClelland wrote the PDFSD is committed to private fundraising and grants to pay for the new junior lifeguard facility, which he pointed out would be owned and controlled by the City.
But not everyone was pleased by the aquatic facility as proposed — or the notion of putting it so soon on an election ballot.
“What the Junior Lifeguards Foundation has sought since at least 2015 is a headquarters and not a Junior Lifeguards Program headquarters,” testified Judy Swink, a former member of the Mission Bay Park Committee, which advises the city’s Park and Recreation Board, at the Aug. 6 Council hearing. “The former is not an allowed use of dedicated parkland, the latter is.”
Swink also questioned “whether the Junior Lifeguards Program really needs a 9,000-square-foot building to continue their aquatic safety training, the great majority of which takes place outdoors at a beach.”
“Amending the City Charter is a serious step and can become a slippery slope,” Swink told the Council. “We, and you, have an obligation to hold the line against special-interest efforts to chip away at dedicated parkland protections … The fact that the ‘special interest’ is a highly regarded nonprofit … should not enable a short cut, without prior public discussion, to achieve the Foundation’s desire to have their own headquarters on dedicated parkland.”
Swink argued that there had been “virtually no outreach” to planning or other civic groups prior to the Council’s Aug. 6 action not to place the junior lifeguard headquarters on the November ballot.
“What the Charter does ‘not’ allow is an educational organization to build their own facility on dedicated parkland, even if they propose to turn ownership over to the City,” testified Swink. “The proposed measure would change that, and would do so without the two-thirds majority that should be necessary to modify allowed uses in dedicated parkland.”