City lifeguards at La Jolla Shores appear to have gotten a handle on a safety hazard involving their new tower that opened last summer.
That hazard, to the well-being of beachgoers, is the sun – specifically, the way it plays off the windows in the $3.8 million tower when it gets close to setting.
It distorts, and sometimes washes out, the lifeguards' view of people in the water.
Somebody, it would seem, didn't account for the sun's seasonal migrations.
"With the glare reflecting and re-projecting itself to the north, it causes essentially a blind spot similar to what you would see in the afternoon when the sun's setting,” explains Lifeguard Sgt. Ben Lewis. “It puts a glare on the water that makes it difficult to look into. So that same glare reflects itself to the glass to the north, creating a double-glare effect."
It's a problem that didn't present itself when the tower opened last summer -- but became a major issue when the sun was farther south last fall.
And it will be a problem again this spring, when the sun will have tracked back north.
So until the windows are replaced, reconfigured or redesigned, lifeguards also are staffing a summer-season lookout near the main tower from mid-afternoon to sunset to provide visual backup for colleagues in the main tower.
“It’s working out well,” said Lewis. “The guard in that observation tower doesn’t suffer from the same glare issues that the guard in the current observation tower does. So he’s able to essentially cross-check the water for us.”
Beachgoers interviewed Friday by NBC 7 were glad to know there's another set of eyes where they need to be -- but disappointed that the problem and its temporary work-around couldn't have been avoided in the first place.
"We were here all last season when they were building this, and we thought 'Wow, this really looks cool!' And it does look cool,” said La Jolla resident Jeremy Eisen. “But it's unfortunate to hear that it doesn't serve the function it was designed for."
Experts are now working on optical fixes estimated to cost around $75,000, with the city looking to recover from contractors and or/vendors.
"Whoever's selling you the product has to know what they're selling you; that's a good thing to know,” said Bonita resident Frank Almado. “And then when you buy the product, you should probably know what you're buying. So there's probably a problem on both ends here."
Officials say the long-term fix or fixes should be completed before the summer beach-going season.
They point out that glare is an issue in any lifeguard tower, but the situation at the Shores apparently is in a class of its own.