Recently, La Jolla lifeguards sustained injuries on the job due to unsafe building conditions at the Cove and La Jolla Shores stations. Although no guards were injured at the Children's Pool main station, a lifeguard was standing beneath an overhang when it crumbled onto the beach, said Lt. John Greenhalgh during a meeting last November of the La Jolla Community Planning Association. All three La Jolla lifeguard stations need to be rebuilt and are in the planning stages. La Jolla Shores is ready to be built as soon as funding arrives, planning groups already approved the Children's Pool station and the Cove tower will be built last.
Engineering officials inspected the Children's Pool lifeguard station Friday, March 14, Greenhalgh said, and condemned it. Officials quietly put yellow caution tape around the Children's Pool station the next day, and then lifeguards walked out of the building. They said no incident occurred to fuel the condemnation other than a series of failings.
The wood-and-cement tower has taken 40 years of abuse from its oceanfront location, said Lt. Andy Lerum. Rebar pokes through crumbling cement along a failed hillside underneath an area of the tower that city officials fenced off years ago. Frayed and knotted yellow caution tape, faded from weather, is woven around the fence left by city workers who, lifeguards said, promised to reinspect the failing building. The officials returned last weekend and strung up new tape alongside the old, condemning the tower.
Last week, a lifeguard arrived early at the Cove lifeguard station, Greenhalgh said. The guard was shaving at a sink when a pipe full of raw sewage exploded onto his head and torso. Bob West, president of La Jolla Cove Swim Club, witnessed the event and said the pipes and tower are in need of repair.
"The guard was shaving at a sink and he ran down the stairs and into the ocean," West said. "The feeling is that the guard tower and the storage facility are 30 years old, and a new tower needs to be brought in fairly quickly here."
Just months ago, the La Jolla Shores station was leaking carbon monoxide. Because of previous break-ins, lifeguards said the windows were bolted shut. Some lifeguards had been complaining of headaches for months, smelled gas and called San Diego Gas & Electric, which diagnosed a faulty water heater, Greenhalgh said. The windows and leak were repaired, he said.
"There was carbon monoxide detected," Greenhalgh said. "But the bottom line is that all these facilities need to be redone. And we need more support from the community and more understanding."
Although the lifeguards union said it is aware of the lifeguards' working conditions, officials said they don't have authority to expedite the building process.
"We are aware of the two incidences that occurred at the La Jolla stations and are working with lifeguard leaders and the city to address the issues," said a spokeswoman for the Municipal Employees Association, the union for lifeguards. "We are also aware of the incident at the Children's Pool and are continuing to address it."
In 2007, Greenhalgh said he worried about the lifeguards' safety. He attended a La Jolla planning meeting with Children's Pool project manager Jihad Sleiman and others who continually pursued different avenues to gain approval for a new lifeguard tower. They gained approval from the planning group, but because of the city's fiscal crisis, bond funds were no longer allocated to the project.
The Children's Pool is a main tower used daily by two lifeguards during the winter months and five during summer months, Lerum said. Many of the lifeguards said they are concerned now that the Children's Pool tower is condemned, because their equipment, personnel and office materials are scattered through La Jolla, creating a dangerous situation.
Greenhalgh said that his temporary office is located on Nautilus Street, so if a call comes through, he must drive through La Jolla to a rescue, endangering the public and himself. His main concern is that the water is covered as far as lifeguards monitoring public safety, he said.
"We're working with the public," lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris said. "We've had deaths up here and we want to make sure that doesn't happen."
According to Lerum, while lifeguards wait for two temporary towers on order, they are operating out of a fire department and a lifeguard trailer. But the towers are borrowed, Greenhalgh said, and although lifeguards are tough, they shouldn't be expected to sit outside in harsh weather.
"There's a long history of needing help, and help didn't come," Lerum said.
Greenhalgh said he would be meeting with city officials today, March 20, and that he hopes to get a timeline of when the new stations will be built.
"My hope is that I'll get some time after pupping season so that they can take the tower down within one day," Greenhalgh said. "But I want the community to know I'm also a part of the community. I started my career in La Jolla and I'm going to finish my career here in La Jolla."