Life A Beach For OC's $200K Lifeguards

MAY 13, 2011


Some lifeguards in Orange County are making upwards of $200,000 in total compensation. This revelation gives new meaning to the phrase “Life is a beach!”

Tuesday, my story about lifeguard pay in Newport Beach made national headlines. More than half of the full-time, salaried lifeguards in the beach city made over $100,000 in the calendar year 2010, excluding benefits. With benefits, of the 14 full time lifeguards, all but one of them made over $100,000.

Salary is only the start of the luxurious compensation packages given to these baywatchers. They are also entitled to $400 a year for “Sun Protection” and worst of all they have perhaps the most lucrative pension formula (3 percent at 50) for public employees which gives them 90 percent of their salary after 30 years of services with retirement eligibility at as early as age 50. One recently retired Newport Beach lifeguard, 51 years of age, is collecting $108,000 in salary for the rest of his life.

Two lifeguard battalion chiefs were the highest paid guards receiving $211,000 and $203,000, respectively including benefits. But the salaries and compensation packages do not tell the whole story.

For all of the well-paid lifeguards, “special compensation” and overtime played a huge part in inflating their salaries. Take for example the two battalion chiefs. The first battalion chief has a base salary of roughly $108,000 annually but also received more than $12,000 in special compensation and more than $28,000. In just pay, not taking into consideration any benefits, the lifeguard made nearly $150,000 for the year. The second battalion chief, with a base salary of $104,000 received an additional $10,000 in special compensation and $28,000 in overtime pay. Both lifeguards received over $60,000 in benefits.

All of the lifeguards who made more than $100,000 had substantial overtime and/or special compensation added to their base salary. Half of the fulltime lifeguards received from $9,000 to $14,000 in special compensation. And all but 4 lifeguards were paid in excess of $6,000 in overtime. Benefits paid out for the lifeguards ranged from almost $39,000 for the lowest paid guard to $62,000 for the highest paid.

In 2010, 14 fulltime lifeguards cost the city more than $2.1 million.

When approached with the numbers, Brent Jacobsen, a spokesperson for the Lifeguard Management Association in the city, said the salaries were comparable with other cities up and down the coast of California. It sounds hard to believe, but he is right. Lifeguards in neighboring Huntington Beach and in LA County are paid at similar salary scales—though in LA County the pension benefits are far less generous.

Newport Beach is a small microcosm of a much bigger compensation issue where salary and pension benefits are far too generous and unsustainable. Life is definitely a beach if you can find a six figure job in the sand.

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