Statement: “We don’t have any training for our lifeguards,” City Councilman David Alvarez said in a June 6 discussion about the budget on KPBS.

Determination: False

Analysis: Last week, the City Council approved a spending plan whose impacts were starkly different than the imminent disaster described by advocates of a half-cent sales tax increase last fall. City officials largely spared core services from further cuts and even boosted funding for firefighters and lifeguards.

Hours before approving the budget, Alvarez and fellow Councilman Kevin Faulconer appeared on KPBS with a final push for their goals: avoiding cuts to libraries, parks and recreation centers and increasing public safety funding. Much of the council later agreed.

But in outlining his concerns, Alvarez made one slip. He said the city’s lifeguards needed more money to pay for training and implied that all training operations had ceased. “We don’t have any training for our lifeguards,” he said.

And that’s false.


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The City Council cut funding for lifeguards in recent years but didn’t eliminate training entirely. New lifeguards are still trained and existing lifeguards still conduct regular exercises — just not as often as they had before.

The city has two kinds of lifeguards: seasonal and full-time. Seasonal lifeguards boost patrols during the summer and receive basic training. Full-time lifeguards work the entire year and receive advanced training for emergencies like those requiring river, scuba or cliff rescues.

Previous cuts trimmed training for full-time lifeguards. They used to train for river rescues once a year, for example, and now most of them get training every other year. A six-member river rescue team still conducts more specialized training regularly.

Lifeguards train whenever there’s enough staffing to spare them from patrols. Since 2009, the City Council has cut 12 full-time lifeguards and consequently reduced the time some lifeguards could train while others patrol. The city added the equivalent of 23 seasonal lifeguards last year, bolstering summer patrols, but those lifeguards didn’t receive the advanced training that full-time lifeguards did.

The amount of training is “certainly not at a level that we’re comfortable with,” said Ed Harris, head of the lifeguards union. “We can get by doing that for short periods of time, and we’re saying that’s having an impact over time.”

And through this year’s budget, the City Council agreed. It added three full-time lifeguards and boosted the Fire-Rescue Department’s budget by another $40,000 that could be used to pay for overtime for lifeguard training or the equipment they need to train. Lt. Nick Lerma, who oversees city lifeguard training, said the new budget would restore training to about 200 hours annually for full-time lifeguards, up from 63.

Maurice Luque, a Fire-Rescue Department spokesman, and Harris both agreed that Alvarez’s statement was false. The councilman said he misspoke on KPBS and issued the following statement:

I was trying to make clear to the public that due to drastic budget cuts, training for permanent lifeguards was not being kept up to the high standards that the residents of San Diego expect and deserve. The changes made in the 2012 budget will allow our permanent lifeguard personnel to be trained on a regular basis, ensuring that everyone is safe when visiting our beaches and bays. I would like to thank the Voice of San Diego for assisting me in making the intent of my statement clear to the public.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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