My Wrong Career Choice

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Back in grade school, high school, and college, I surfed a lot. I also swam a lot and was a junior lifeguard, but not for very long.


Because there is no way my father would have let me pursue that kind of stuff as a career. You see, he was a Civil Engineer, with his Master’s Degree. Shoot, my mom even told me once that he would have gotten his Doctorate had I not been born. But I digress…

So I had to study, and study, and then study some more. In the summer, when I wasn’t surfing or swimming, I’d be studying. And now today, I run the books for mom-and-pops as well as for $100 million dollar companies.

But he primarily kept my nose in the books because back then, being a lifeguard could never be a career, could never pay well, and could never lead to good things. How could it, right?

Well…fast forward to 2011 and the City of Newport Beach.

City Manager Dave Kiff, with his budget-slashing Conan the Barbarian Axe, is proposing to reduce the city’s corps of full time Lifeguards from 13 to nine. And some people in the City are actually upset at this…even my good friend Barbara Venezia wrote about this from the Lifeguard’s point of view in the OC Register.

So let me inject my spin into this Safety vs. Pension Lifeguard argument.

But let me start somewhere else.

Do you know that the top-paid Lifeguard, with benefits, received more than $210,000?

The next highest paid Lifeguard, with benefits, $203,481.76?

In fact, out of the 14 full-time Lifeguards on payroll in 2010, the poorest one received with benefits…wait for it…$98,160.65.

The average salary, with benefits, for those 14 Lifeguards, was $154,857.95. And that includes $400 each a year for sun screen…

Is that a lot?

Ok, so what do they do for that money?

Today just happens to be a very warm day. So are those guys out saving lives? Sure they are, but there is also a large pool of Lifeguards on Call to draw from who make $16 to $22 an hour with no benefits. THEY man the towers and THEY do the lionshare of the rescues.

But the full time guys, well, in the offseason, typically two are in trucks – maybe three – one at CdM, two others are in trucks roaming between the Wedge and the Santa Ana River. The rest are either doing admin/office work, not driving around…. not on a Tower. They are painting towers, ordering uniforms, answering phones (“How’s the surf today?”), overseeing dispatch, training people on CPR or prepping for Jr. Guards (getting the trailer ready).

So we need those Full Time Lifeguards earning at total, including benefits, of $2,168,011.39 to do this? We need an average of $154,857.95 each to paint a lifeguard tower, answer phones, train people in CPR and training Junior Lifeguards?

Obviously not, as Kiff, the Newport Beach Fire Department Chief, and the Newport Beach Chief Safety Officer had decided as they propose cutting the 13 down to nine.

And as far as I am concerned, this is the furthest thing away from a Safety vs. Pension issue. It’s just cutting some serious, and long overdue, fat from the City.

Ooohhhh…forgot to mention their juicy pensions didn’t I?

OK, consider that two recently retired Lifeguards now receive in excess of $100K a year in pensions plus medical. One guard recently retired at age 51 to receive $108,000 a year, plus medical.

So don’t feel soo bad for those poor lifeguards.

Also think about this, if you are drowning in Newport Beach waters, would you want a 47-year-old full-time lifeguard who normally jockeys a desk, or answers the phone, or does admin/office work to come get you, or would you want a very fit 23-year-old Lifeguard-On-Call/UCI water polo player to drag your butt out of the water?

Think David Hasselhoff vs. Pamela Anderson.

So by the time I get to retire at the age of, let’s say, 70…that same 70 year old retired Newport Beach Lifeguard would have already been “earning” more than $108,000.00 a year from his pension for 20 years.

And my father didn’t want me to be a lifeguard.


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  1. The real PIGS feeding at the tax payer pension trough are the “executive management”. Take a closer look and one will discover this is the “tip of the ice berg” when it comes to pension abuse.

    The “Double Dippers”
    Newport Beach Fire Chief Mike Morgan is earning a total city salary & benefits package in excess of $350k per year on top of his LA County Pension where he previously worked for LA County Fire Dept. likely $200k per year. After adding his City-paid PERS time with Costa Mesa and Newport, he will be “double dipping” from the tax payer trough close to ½ million dollars per year in total pension costs when he retires AGAIN!! His multi-pension, publicly paid retirement PORK FEST could staff the Newport Beach coastline with tower guards for the entire year! How many other Cities and Counties have these “Double Dippers” feasting away at the tax payer pension trough?

    The “Cross Border Double Dippers”
    Many City and County government bodies look to hire their “executive management” from outside the area often across county and state borders. These “Cross Border Double Dippers” seem like a good idea at first but often bring more trouble than their worth. They lean hard on the frontline workers axing and cutting the real muscle of government while at the same time giving away lucrative deals to “outside contractors” for consultant work and hiring their buddies as “deputy managers” or “assistant managers”. These “outside contractors” are merely cronies of the executive management who don’t have the interests of the local constituents thus undermining the goals and values of the local community. This outsourcing and phony privatization plans are only a scheme to further enrich their cronies and degrade local control. Meanwhile, these “Cross Border Double Dippers” take no ownership for their decisions and move on to the next city, county or state job never taking responsibility for their actions and picking up more public pensions like an Easter Egg Hunt.

    Agencies Should Hire and Promote Internally
    Reversing a decade-long practice of hiring and promoting “executive management” from outside the area might prove to be a valuable tool for communities to regain control and accountability. For example, Newport Beach Fire Dept. has no consistency at the helm of their department which has seen at least four different interim Fire Chiefs in the past few years. I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a single competent firefighter among their command staff who is capable of stepping into the Chief’s position to lead the department. What the hell is going on there? Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff is one of those “Cross Border Double Dippers” who came from the City of Orange and operates under the same game plan of bouncing around from city to city taking no responsibility for the long-term implications of his decisions like his “let ‘em die” mentality (quoted Kiff referring to their lifeguard cuts). Councils need to hire and promote from within their city using long-time residence citizens who are committed to building sustainability and accountability in their communities.

    Until then, can taxpayers stop the PORK FEST from guys like Morgan and Kiff at the public pension trough?

  2. The lifeguards actually do save lives. The requirements to join the life guards are significant and they are required to participate in continuing education. The line item “salaries” for Newport Beach life guards is approximately the same as the line item “salaries” for the Central Library alone (i.e. not including salaries at branch libraries),and it is approximately 10% of the line item “salaries” for the rest of the Newport Beach Fire Department. The library salaries are JUST an example. I do NOT want the library staff or hours to be cut. I disagree with City Council on A LOT of issues. We could probably be a more efficient and better managed city. Government pensions are definitely an issue that needs to be dealt with at ALL levels of government – starting with federal and state. Nevertheless, overall, in Newport Beach, we have great services for pretty reasonable prices. We also have A LOT of shoreline. I think that if you are looking for cost cutting savings, you should look at ALL pensions and other departments. The tone of this article makes me think the writer is an accountant. I am a CPA. We do not save lives. What we do is helpful but it is not really critical. I am not opposed to having my tax dollars spent on professional life guards.