Newport Beach lifeguard staff and unsustainable pensions

Lifeguards have an important job as first responders saving lives just like EMTs and paramedics. But in Newport Beach, Calif., it’s not a question of their performance or need, it’s the $100,000 in pay and benefits many guards earn each year after retirement at age 50.

That’s right. Full pay and benefits for life once they hit 50 years old.

First, a little bit of perspective. There are not all that many full time lifeguards in Newport Beach. As a matter of fact, the current number stands at 13, with the bulk of the lifeguard staff being younger, part time seasonal employees who barely make $25k. The full-time staff who have a variety of responsibilities during the peak season with as many as 60,000 visitors a day, and during the off-season with a few hundred, certainly do have a great deal that really needs to be reviewed by the city.

Note this is not just for lifeguards in Newport Beach. It’s offered to all state public safety workers and many municipalities … read on.

From the Orange County Register.

No question the lifeguards do a great job, but at what cost? Sources inside the city tell me retired lifeguards are now costing the city more than current ones. Again, the pension issue raises its ugly head. Figures I saw have the lifeguard department costs at an estimated $4.3 million annually, with more than $2 million in compensation alone.

“Full-time public-sector guards are getting pretty expensive,” says City Manager Dave Kiff. “The lifeguards earn a “3 percent at 50″ pension, which means they can retire at 50 with a pension nearly equal to their salary. In fact, because the city has paid for the retirement benefit that lifeguards were supposed to pay for themselves, a lifeguard with a $90,000 salary (nine of the guard positions make more than $90K a year – one earns $119,000 in base salary) actually has a pension benefit based on a wage $8,100 (9 percent) higher than that – so $98,100.”

He went on to say, “One of our guards retired last year with $108,000 per year in pension benefit. Yet a new full-time guard costs about $102K a year including benefits. This isn’t sustainable.”

Nope. Absolutely not sustainable.

The full time pay is generous, and the part time pay is not too bad either, but you’ve got to keep it in perspective since this is southern California. From Big Government.

Part-time seasonal guards make $16 to $22 per hour with no benefits.  They are the young people who man the towers and do the lion’s share of the rescues. …

Next week the city council will decide if cuts are needed to the full-time lifeguard force where last year the top earner received $211,000 in pay and benefits, including a $400 sun protection allowance.  In 2010 all but one of the city’s full-time lifeguard staff [the OC Register article indicates there are 13] had annual compensation packages worth over $120,000.

More about the retirement benefit packages from Big Government…

These lifeguards can retire at age 50 with full medical benefits for life.  One recently retired lifeguard, age 51, receives a government retirement of over $108,000 per year—for the rest of his life. …

In 1999, California legislators, including many Republicans, felt very generous with the public’s tax dollars and created “three at fifty” for public safety workers.  SB 400 allowed these government employees to retire as early as age 50, well over a decade before their counter-parts in the private sector, and calculate their annual retirement pay at three percent per year or 90% of their final year’s pay.  With the ability to spike final year’s pay based on over-time, vacation and sick leave time, uniform allowances, etc., many former government employees now earn more retired than when they worked.  There was a domino effect of this incredibly generous law resulting in local communities jumping on board to stay “competitive” by offering local public safety personnel, including lifeguards, the same great deal.  Thousands of state and local employees are locked into generous pension contracts which the courts have decided cannot be broken despite the lack of budgets to pay for them.

And look where that has gotten them. What say you? Do you think the state of California and the municipalities who offered these unsustainable benefits be able to pull back and not offer these benefits in the future?

As the article shows, Newport Beach is not putting salaries, benefits and pensions on the table, rather they are threatening laying off five of 13 full time guards. Then they toss out the “people will die” defense.

Lifeguard Captain Mike Halphide told me the proposed cuts would mean one lifeguard would be patrolling the beach off-season. Even in a vehicle, it would take someone almost an hour to travel the entire length of the beach. If someone was in distress at one end, and the lifeguard was at the other, this could have deadly results.

This is how it is done. It’s straight out of the public sector union playbook. Completely ignore the real problem – benefits and pensions – and only suggest layoffs that include the obligatory warnings about people dying (or kids starving … fill in your own disaster …)

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Steve McGough

Steve's a part-time conservative blogger. Steve grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas. He resides in Connecticut, where he’s comfortable six months of the year.


  1. Dimsdale on May 9, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Is there anything that is NOT an entitlement anymore?
    Cali has Tier 1 lifeguards just like CT has Tier 1 state workers: the ones that get all the money and bennies, but don’t do the bulk of the work.? And let the little guys fry to keep their bennies.
    I wonder how EMTs are paid in Cali.? Is? it analogous?? Is it more?
    And I thought it was just the actors on Babewatch, I mean Baywatch, that got the big salaries!? 😉

  2. johnboy111 on May 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    I WANT…IWANT….IWANT…please someone pay[youth]


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