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Peak safety services clipped

Some beaches will not be watched by lifeguards and a summer ambulance won’t be running.

May 12, 2010|By Britney Barnes

Millions of visitors flood Huntington Beach every summer, but with recent budget cuts, a portion of the beach will go unguarded and emergency response times may increase this summer.

Marine Safety Chief Kyle Lindo, Fire Chief Patrick McIntosh and Police Chief Ken Small laid out the cuts their respective departments had to make after the latest rounds of budget cuts at a City Council study session earlier in the month.

“We all know there’s a budget problem ... but for this summer, I think we’ve made good decisions based on the budget monies we have, and I think we will get through this summer with the planning we have done,” Small said.

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The city had to fill a $4-million revenue shortfall by asking departments to chop their budgets. Departments axed about $3.4 million, and union concessions saved the city another $1.4 million to fill the gap for this year. The city has cut $20 million over the last 18 months, but officials are predicting another $3 million will need to be slashed next year, said City Administrator Fred Wilson.

Beachgoers will have to watch where they swim now that lifeguards will no longer be stationed at two towers between Goldenwest Street and Seapoint Avenue. The lifeguards will be replaced by signs warning visitors of the dangers of swimming in the ocean.

The Marine Safety division also lost training opportunities and eliminated skill assessment for returning lifeguards to slash $64,962 from its budget.

The cuts will have a “minimal” effect on the public, and the high-volume areas of the beach will maintain service levels and not be impacted, Lindo said.

“There will be service, but it will be more reactive than proactive,” he said.

The reductions in Marine Safety could increase the service load to the Police and Fire departments, Lindo said.

Minor injuries like stingray attacks used to be treated by lifeguards, but now injured swimmers will have to call 911.

The additional workload comes when police and fire are also facing their own reductions and trying to maintain levels of service.

The Fire Department is looking at being unable to run the summer ambulance it uses to deal with the additional calls during peak months.

The department had to reduce a number of staffing positions and reduce personnel training to cut $1.8 million, leaving it focusing on providing essential services, McIntosh said.

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