“It’s an amazing, beautiful tower,” said San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland. “We couldn’t be happier. It just gives us a great perspective of the beach. What we have now is a state-of-the-art building that will serve our community for the next 30 to 50 years.”
The new 3,809-square-foot, three-story lifeguard station at 700 North Jetty Road replaced a temporary facility, now demolished, that was constructed in 1974.
The new facility features dual-observation areas, a ground floor with a first-aid room, storage for rescue vehicles and equipment, a second floor with an observation deck and administration area, and a third floor housing the main observation tower.
The project also repaired adjacent sidewalks and curbs and installed an erosion-control barrier. It now facilitates disabled access. The project also restriped parking spaces, installed new signage, and put in a sidewalk from the ample parking lot to the station entrance.
The new tower and station directly oversees an area from the South Mission Beach jetty to Ventura Place.
“This is definitely an upgrade for everyone,” said Dana Vanos, president of the San Diego Lifesaving Association, during a sneak peak by the Beach & Bay Press of the new station.
Touring the facility, Vanos showed off the state-of- the-art men’s and women’s locker rooms, medical room with a stretcher and shower to treat stingray victims and a rescue surfboard rack. In back of the station is a double-bay garage housing a truck, utility vehicles and rescue equipment.
Lifeguard on duty Aaron Chase said the new South Mission Beach tower is part of a network of strategically placed, overlapping observation points which “mesh together like a gear.”
Of working in the new facility, Chase said, “There’s a lot more space. It’s a lot cleaner.”
Chase said there will be eight lifeguards on duty in the tower during the busy summer. Only two will be on duty during winter. Permanent guards work 10-hour shifts. Seasonal guards work eight hours.
Noting Mission Beach is crowded from sunup to sundown when the sun is out, Chase pointed out scores of people play volleyball there every Saturday. “It’s off the charts,” he said. “It’s a very active beach.”
Vanos noted South Mission Beach has “a fixed rip (current) along the jetty that is a very dangerous swim area that surfers use to get out past breaking waves. If swimmers get stuck in that, it can be a pretty hairy rescue.”
Asked what advice he would give swimmers, Chase replied, “Talk to a lifeguard before you go into the water. They’ll tell you where the good – and bad – spots are.”
Vanos encouraged swimmers to engage with guards. “We’re ambassadors for the city,” she said. “We welcome any questions.”
Lifeguard station construction was held up for years by a legal challenge brought by Citizens For Beach Rights, a Mission Beach resident group. They contended the lifeguard tower’s site development permit was invalid because it had expired. They also argued the new facility, first proposed in 2002, was overly large and would obstruct views.
“Citizens for Beach rights always approved of a new lifeguard tower,” said CFBR spokesman Ken Giavara. “As permanent residents down here in South Mission Beach we understand more than anyone the need for a new tower. Obviously our fight was with the illegal process of permitting and increased size, the changes in location (which is practically in the water) and relying on environmental reports from 2001, which we still believe is going to be a major problem down the road.”