Support seen for shift in who provides public safety services at Oceanside harbor

A proposal to have lifeguards take over most of the patrol, rescue and public safety services at the Oceanside Harbor appeared to gain momentum this week.

Members of the Oceanside Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee reviewed a staff report Monday that outlined six different proposals for reorganizing the city’s marine public safety services. While some committee members voiced support for the lifeguard expansion, they stopped short of taking an official position on any of the suggestions.

“We’ve got a lot of people who want No. 6 (which would reduce the police presence and increase lifeguard responsibilities),” said committee Chair Liz Rhea. “But I don’t think we are at the point … of saying we are going one way or another.”

The committee members agreed to have city staffers return at their next meeting in May with additional information about the proposals, potential costs, and details about such things as how far offshore the city would be responsible for rescue services.

“Our purpose today is to gather information for the next stage of analysis,” Deputy City Manager Jonathan Borrego said at the committee’s meeting Monday evening. “We are still in the initial stages of this effort.”

Some of the commissioners and harbor stakeholders raised concerns that the reorganization, first proposed about a year ago, is taking too long. Borrego said that the process has been hampered by COVID-19 restrictions, which limited the opportunities for public meetings.

“My goal here is to wrap this up in the next few months,” he said, though some staffers have said it could take six months.

Some of the proposals are more fully developed than others, with details about numerous services to be provided. Others touch on a only few elements to be changed.

“The final path may be a mix of these proposals,” Borrego said.

Harbor Division Manager Ted Schiafone asked for what he called “a very simple” approach, a return to the independent harbor police patrol that the city used until 2009. Since then, marine safety services have been overseen by the Oceanside Police Department, which harbor users say has pulled resources from the harbor and placed them elsewhere in the city.

“I’m proposing we go back to the way we were, and basically have an independent harbor police unit,” Schiafone said.

It’s a proven structure used by other cities such as Santa Barbara and Ventura, he said. It keeps “highly trained individuals” at the harbor, could be a financial savings for the city, and would improve oversight and communications.

Police Chief Fred Armijo said his department is prepared to participate in whatever form the reorganization may take.

“We are willing to let the experts work on the water and leave law enforcement to police officers,” Armijo said.

Fire Chief Rick Robinson and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Ward both said the Fire Department, which has included the city’s lifeguard program since 2009, is prepared to offer round-the-clock emergency service at the harbor.

“We plan for the high-risk, low-frequency events,” such as boat fires and ocean rescues, as well as day-to-day services such as dock patrols and permit inspections, Ward said. Also, the Fire Department has mutual aid agreements with agencies across North County for help in major events.

A harbor businessman, James Gardner, who supplies bait to charter fishing boats, said most of the stakeholders are pleased with the efforts made so far.

“We voiced our concerns, and they listened,” Gardner said. “We think everybody’s main interest is the safety of the harbor and its users.”




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