The Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard program is now up and running, a decided change from several weeks ago when the COVID-19 restrictions had all but forced the cancellation of the annual program that draws more than 1,000 local kids that want to learn how to be lifeguards.
During the Newport Beach City Council study session on Tuesday, June 23, Fire Chief Jeff Boyles and Chief Lifeguard Mike Halphide addressed the City Council and explained how the program was implemented this year, albeit with some adjustments.
“After a couple of months of discussion, we are proud to announce our program did kick off today with the As division,” Fire Chief Boyles told the council. “We had a little less than 140 kids today at the Newport Pier in the Blackie’s area.”
Chief Boyles introduced Chief Lifeguard Halphide, who noted there were modifications to the program this year due to the coronavirus.
“Those include physical distancing,” he said. “We are at Lifeguard Headquarters for our oldest, Marina Park for our B level (ages 12 and 13), and Junior Lifeguard Headquarters for our youngest two groups. We are reducing our group size and not intermingling. We have increased disinfecting and cleaning practices. We’re looking forward to doing the program, which was previously in doubt.”
He noted that total enrolment this year was around 1,300, compared to last year’s total of 1,345.
“It speaks to the popularity of the program to have that many still here with all the concerns” this year, said Halphide.
Halphide noted that normally the costs for part time lifeguards that provide staffing for the Junior Lifeguard program are $320,000 for the seven weeks of the program, but this year costs have jumped to $430,000 due to a necessary increase in staffing plus additional costs for equipment including masks, portable restrooms, and other necessary items needed due to the expanded locations.
“Normally our program is supported 82 percent by user fees and 18 percent by the city, and we hope to continue that. We had donations available from parents, and we are looking to secure additional funding through the CARES act.”
“This is exciting for the community and parents especially,” said Councilmember Kevin Muldoon. “They’re more thrilled than their kids to get them out of the house.”
As to the dollar amounts, Muldoon wondered how much they could expect from the CARES act.
City Manager Grace Leung responded that the city had received around $770,000 for COVID-19 related expenditures, and that the Junior Lifeguard program would qualify for some of that funding.
“We are so excited—I have two junior lifeguards” in the program, said councilmember Joy Brenner. “It’s important for the public to know how much the fees are for these junior guards. The parents are paying a significant amount, $727 per junior guard.”
Brenner recalled a time when her daughter was in the Junior Lifeguard program, and she would ride across the Balboa Ferry to the peninsula with the other junior lifeguards.
“It is the most patriotic and respectful and character building program,” said Brenner. “I wish every child in America could do this.”