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Seasonal, Not Marginal
Jonathan Edelbrock | City of Del Mar, Community Services and Lifeguard Lieutenant


Photo Art Olson  Click to enlarge.


With another summer season having come and gone, most of our Lifeguard department’s dedicated group of Seasonal Lifeguards part ways with their summer commitment. The talented and diverse group of part-time community servants includes amongst its ranks high school students, law and medical school students, teachers, and other working professionals. They provide the backbone of safety and service for our bustling beach of nearly 2.5 million annual visitors.
The City of Del Mar makes a serious commitment to its beach-goers by maintaining its clean, friendly, and safe beach under the supervision of its preeminent Lifeguard Department - recognized by the governing authority on ocean lifeguarding, the United States Lifesaving Association, as an advanced agency due to its high-level of trained personnel, specialized teams, and ability to work with special rescue equipment. Our Seasonal Lifeguards are held to the highest standards and are required to contribute significantly to complicated and difficult situations such as rescues and first aids, law enforcement, and contact with the public every hour they work.

The skills required to become an ocean lifeguard and meet this City’s expectations are unique; however, this group, by all accounts, is under-compensated. Seasonal Lifeguards in Del Mar have had only one cost of living adjustment since 1993 – though national inflation has increased 67% and the area’s cost of living has increased at a greater clip. Additionally, they are, by far, the lowest paid in San Diego County. Had our 2013 class of Lifeguards chosen to work for another agency, on average, their starting pay would have been 76% higher. The disparity in pay is even more significant in comparison to the Southern California region.
Access to pay increases is quite difficult for a seasonal employee in Del Mar. It takes greater than two to greater than four times longer between step advancements for a Seasonal Lifeguard in Del Mar compared to similar positions in Southern California. Assuming a Seasonal Lifeguard who works full time for the City and does everything they can to improve upon their position after starting here, it can take them over 26 years to achieve the AVERAGE STARTING PAY RATE that exists in 2013 for Seasonal Lifeguards along San Diego County beaches.
While the nature of the Seasonal employee tag indicates they are used only seasonally, the City has become very dependent upon this group year-round for many years - and there is no end in sight. Factors such as the loss of an only recently gained regular “full time” position, a shrinking department budget, pending constraints on part-time employees due to the Affordable Care Act, and limitations on the number of hours a part-time employee can work in a fiscal year, the retention of this highly-trained employee group remains paramount to our public’s safety and the continuing strength of its lifeguard organization.
We have been losing our seasonal employees at an alarming rate – the result of the improving economy, a lack of commitment to pay a competitive wage, and the constraints on achieving pay increases. Attracting quality senior-level employees is less-than feasible because of similarly startling low pay steps for senior-level lifeguards and the inability of seasonal employees to cumulatively work greater than 1000-1300 hours, should they have more than one government employer.
The community of Del Mar has many fine traditions and none greater than its world-class beach. Upholding this tradition is essential to the continued success and safety record for which the City has stood and benefited greatly from for over
50 years.

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