OCEANSIDE — The committee overseeing the city’s harbor operations next month will consider four options to improve public safety services in Oceanside’s only special district, an issue upon which city staff and slip renters have yet to find common ground.
The Oceanside Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee will discuss four options, including an option known as “Proposal 6,” during its Nov. 15 meeting. Some of the options include reverting back to a separate Harbor Police Department and privatizing certain services like marine rescues.
Last year, stakeholders came forward with Proposal 6 to improve the harbor’s safety services by combining the Harbor Patrol Unit with the city’s Lifeguard Services, which falls under the Oceanside Fire Department.
Supporters of the proposal, also referred to as “Option 6,” claim the merge would recover eliminated and reduced services in the harbor while also reducing the costs for those services by $400,000 annually.
According to its framework, Proposal 6 would reduce preventable drownings with a new, 24-hour lifeguard service, increase staffing on rescue boats, provide more experienced personnel, consolidate all ocean rescue services, and provide more certified rescue boat captains and qualified lifeguard crew members with years of open water lifeguard and emergency medical services experience, with no additional cost to slip renters.
But many longtime slip renters in the harbor feel that services have declined in the district since the city combined its Harbor Police Department with the Oceanside Police Department (OPD) in 2009.
At the time, the move served to eliminate the redundancy of having two city police departments and to save money during the Great Recession. And renters said they were promised the decision would not degrade harbor services.
Since then, stakeholders have seen the elimination of emergency medical technicians (EMTs), swift water rescue technicians, discretionary non-emergency vessel assistance towing and salvage, and maintenance and support services like salvage SCUBA diving.
Slip renters have also questioned the need to continue paying OPD as much for its presence in the harbor — $2.5 million annually — when they feel that the harbor police end up responding to more calls outside of the district.
Stakeholders argued that the harbor police officers don’t have the same experience and qualifications when it comes to water safety, boats and diving operations. Many believe the new system would allow its new Harbor Patrol Unit to focus on ocean safety while law enforcement can focus more on land-based policing.
Proposal 6 supporters had the chance to detail their plan back in March, along with other proposals aiming to mitigate the loss of services in the harbor district.
The meeting was meant for informational purposes only, according to Deputy City Manager Jonathan Borrego, who noted that some of those stakeholders were frustrated by the fact that those options weren’t up for a vote at the time.
Many of its supporters felt burned when Borrego and city staff proposed a different plan during a Sept. 9 meeting for approval by the advisory committee.
“They dealt us with contempt and totally disregarded us,” said Don Rodgers, a harbor slip renter. “They locked us out of the system and came up with a proposal that they decided they wanted.”
According to Proposal 6 supporters, the plan presented by Borrego and an interdepartmental team of fire and lifeguard services would reduce their desired lifeguard coverage from 24 hours per day to just 16 hours, while relying on on-call lifeguards between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“It relies on lifeguards to respond from home in their vehicles in the event of an emergency,” Rodgers said. “In the event of a water emergency, the rescue boat cannot leave the dock until the rescue swimmer arrives, creating what has proven to be in past incidents a deadly delay.”
Rodgers also questioned the increase in fire department personnel as part of the plan brought forward by Borrego, and believe the proposal will cost the city more than Proposal 6.
“The biggest concern we heard about the proposal from (Sept. 9th) was in addition to the lifeguard services of which everyone seems to be in universal support, that model also included some enhanced fire services, members of the committee found that would drive up the cost than just looking at the lifeguard model alone,” Borrego said.
Borrego also noted that the harbor has historically always paid the city’s police department for services even before the 2009 merge.
“The harbor is the only special district in the city,” Borrego said. “That model is set up in a way that necessitates them paying for police services.”
Proposal 6 supporters were not the only ones who didn’t like the brought forward last month. During that meeting, all nine members voted to oppose the proposal, asking that staff come back with different options for consideration. Borrego said more analyses of the four different options would include more accurate numbers for Proposal 6.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to cost more than what that paper suggests,” Borrego said. “There are cost of living increases but also some other budget numbers that the paper doesn’t account for, so that’ll all be shared.”
Following the September meeting, Proposal 6 supporters started a petition on change.org to go forward with their preferred plan. So far, the petition has 2,887 signatures.