The San Diego City Council unanimously voted Monday to approve a contract with UCSD to provide lifeguards at Black's Beach using donated funds from the university.
This comes as the state's university and college systems are facing budget cuts and fee hikes.
The school will spend more than half a million dollars on an annualized basis to fully restore the beach's lifeguard service, which was reduced to near-suspension 15 months ago, with an option to extend for two one-year periods.
According to the city, the money will go towards promoting four seasonal lifeguards to full-time status. The deal would provide two full-time lifeguards to patrol the beach until mid-June, with six full-time guards patrolling during spring break and the summer season.
Black's Beach, a state-owned oceanfront stretch sandwiched between property owned by the city and UC regents, is world famous (and not just because it's an unofficial nude beach.) It attracts lots of surfers, swimmers and hikers from UC San Diego and far beyond.
Because the waters and cliffs can be deadly, city and campus officials say the place needs to be properly monitored.
"Black's has ferocious rip currents -- more so than on your average beach," said Bob Guza, professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "The skilled surfers use those to ride in and out, across the surf zone, to avoid paddling out. But to the unwary, they're death."
The waters off Black's have produced one drowning and two near-drowning incidents in the past year and a half.
City budget cuts that took effect Jan. 1, 2010 left only two lifeguards to patrol Blacks Beach from mid-day to dark -- only between mid-June and Labor Day.
Through fall, winter and spring, the swells and currents can really get rowdy.
"It's not always big and powerful here," notes UC San Diego surf team coach Tyler Callaway, "but when it is, it's as big and powerful as any place I've been to in Hawaii."
So despite competing priorities, and without involving student fees, UC San Diego will underwrite six lifeguards a day for spring break and the summer months, two a day for the rest.
"Safety's always up there at the front of the pack," explains Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews. "We have a variety of different safety issues, and it's a difficult decision. But it's one we felt had to be made."
Lifeguards say it's taking them about eight to ten minutes to respond to emergencies at Black's Beach and because they're not stationed there, and they're not in a position to warn people away from dangerous surf, the cliffs and the trails.
"And in the world of saving lives, literally every minute counts." says Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts. "And so this is going to provide lifeguards in the immediate area to respond to those emergencies."
Informed of the financial particulars, a leading taxpayers advocate said the deal raised no particular objection.
"I'm not going to quibble over this," said Richard Rider, president of San Diego Tax Fighters. "Public safety is always a top priority in government spending, and if they've gone through the appropriate reviews and processes, all well and good."