A $108,000 pension for lifeguards?

That's what some of them get in one California city when they retire, but they're taking heat for it.

By doubleace Jul 11, 2011 1:03PM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


It's been a tough year for the iconic beach lifeguards of Southern California.


Lionized -- and trivialized -- by movies and TV shows, especially the long-running "Baywatch," they too have been hit by the tsunami against public employees with six-figure paychecks and pensions. 

If cops and firefighters are reviled for retiring at age 50 or 55 with a guaranteed yearly income of more than $100,000, imagine the riptide sucking at those drawing a similar check -- with a cost-of-living adjustment and lifetime medical benefits -- after years of doing what the public envisions as nothing more than working on a tan and flirting with the eye candy. 


"I supervised 13, 14 engineers when I was working and I was making $111,000 when I retired three years ago with an MBA and a technical engineering degree," wrote Leonard Musgrave, 69, who, in his letter to the Orange County Register, said he doesn't have a pension. "I mean, come on! All you have to do is look at good-looking women at the beach. I mean, they shouldn't even get paid! I'd do it for 10% of that pay." Post continues after video.

The uproar focused on the lifeguards of Newport Beach, a city just south of Los Angeles. Wrote The Associated Press:

Base salaries for Newport Beach lifeguards range from $58,000 for the lowest-paid officer to $108,492 for the top-paid battalion chief, according to a 2010 city report on lifeguard pay.
With overtime, more than half of the 13 full-time lifeguards cleared $100,000, while the rest made between $59,500 and $98,500. Adding in pension contributions, medical benefits, life insurance and other pay, two battalion chiefs earned more than $200,000 in 2010, while the lowest-paid officer made more than $98,000.
Full-time lifeguards currently have a contract that makes them eligible for retirement at age 50 with 30 years of service. They would receive 90% of their salary.

A lifeguard there recently retired with a yearly pension of $108,000 at age 51, a City Council member told the Los Angeles Times.


Faced with public outrage, and layoffs, the lifeguards quickly negotiated a deal that cut pensions for new hires by as much as 50%, and increased their pension contributions, to 9% of their pay from 3.5%.


So how do fit young men and women in red bathing suits end up being compensated like firefighters and police?

They are needed. Newport Beach is a city of 85,000, but its 8.7 miles of ocean and bay sands and waters attracted more than 7 million people in 2010, despite a cooler-than-usual summer. That means a bundle of money coming in from outside the community, and it means it is best not to let them drown.

According to city figures, the lifeguards made 2,190 water rescues in 2010, responded to more than 5,000 medical calls and issued more than 76,000 warnings about rip currents or high tides. Two people died.

These are pros. The people getting these wages and benefits are not just summer fill-ins, armed with a good swimming stroke and CPR and first aid training. "Full-time professional lifeguarding is a well-respected profession that requires education, extensive training and experience," Newport Beach said in a statement on its website, adding that "lifeguards are paid and compensated in a manner in line with professional lifeguarding in Southern California."

According to AP:

Those whose salaries are in question point out that they hold management roles, have decades of service and are considered public safety employees under the fire department, the same as fire captains and battalion chiefs. The full-time guards train more than 200 seasonal lifeguards who make between $16 and $22 an hour (and) run a junior lifeguard program that brings in $1 million a year.

Their duties, in many cases, include a lot more than just patrolling. About 90 miles south of Newport Beach lies San Diego, one of the top tourist destinations in America and home of 24 miles of beach. Here is a lifeguard's job description in that city, according to B. Chris Brewster, former San Diego lifeguard chief and president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association:  


The full-time lifeguard staff are all peace officers, though not armed with firearms, and EMTs (emergency medical technicians). They staff a 24-hour, 9-1-1 dispatch center. A minimum of four are on duty 24 hours a day.
They handle dozens of cliff rescues each year, staff the fire-rescue boats for Mission Bay, respond to offshore emergencies, partner with the San Diego Police Department to form the city's Dive Team (including underwater search, recovery, and evidence gathering), and staff the city's renowned River Rescue Team. That team is part of the national Urban Search and Rescue team network and was dispatched to Hurricane Katrina.

The AP reports that while lifeguard pay is pretty standardized along the Southern California coast, the pensions have been quite a bit higher in Newport Beach. In Los Angeles County, lifeguards can retire at 50 for 60% of pay, and in San Diego, retire at 55 at 75%.

Commented "phdinresidence," writing to ABC News:

Amazing. I grew up in Newport Beach and lifeguards were considered beach bums and a big joke. It was great when they rescued someone, but that only took 15 minutes away from flirting with the underage girls and catching rays. ... Who knew they were being paid a fortune for being part of the scenery most of the time. California seems to have been mismanaged for an awful long time if these dizzy dolts are retiring now and cashing in big time.

More on MSN Money:


Jul 12, 2011 10:17AM
This is why California is going broke....
Jul 12, 2011 10:17AM
Are you kidding me?  Lifeguards retiring with $108,000 pension!  Gee I wonder why California is broke and unfixable.  I am not surprised and good for them for getting that type of money for this type of job.  I had no idea but something is really wrong here and the answers should be common sense.  Not ruled by some union that negotiates and pressures a city, state or town into bad agreements like this.  It is time to kick the unions out of governement, period.  They have all but killed manufacturing in the U.S. with their mindless demands and threats.
Jul 12, 2011 10:46AM
Typical California BS. What's pathetic is these idiots think it's owed to them. Just for comparison, a Colonel in the Air Force or Army, with 25 years serving his country, retires with close to half of that ridiculous amount. And, he likely has a Masters degree. Even more pathetic, a grunt in the Army or Marines, that may have spent his 25 years dodging bullets and ied's pursuing terrorists and other scumbags, walks away with less than one-third of that pension (plus whatever abuse his body managed to sustain). It just goes to show how out of touch some of these city governments are when it comes to how they set up their pay structure for these self-important municipal workers.
Jul 12, 2011 9:30AM
I have been in the military for almost 26 years. I have been deployed 4 times and seen combat in each deployment. I would love to talk to those lifeguard chumps about saving lives and doing a hard job. I don't think ocean creatures try to blow you up and shoot at you. i don't think have seen children die daily. I am not asking for more money, but i sure as hell don't think they deserve that kind of money.
Jul 12, 2011 9:47AM
"The World is Ending" - Firefighters and police officers are tough jobs indeed.  But a lifeguard, not so much.  Plus, I think people are sick of working until they are 63 or 65 when civil service workers can retire at 50 or 55.  I think we can find a job for them and make it fair for the rest of us.  Fire and police carry an immediate danger of being killed on a daily basis (that justifies their pensions?).  Who says the factory where (Bob/Cathy) works won't give them cancer in 30 years?  
People are just sick of big government taking advantage of them.  Why do you think 30 people apply for a position at Intel and 300 for a civil service job?  It's because they know there is virtually no accountability and they can live in Florida before they can order from the senior menu.  
Jul 12, 2011 8:02AM
The whole problem is a system that allows police, fire, lifeguards, ect to scam the system and retire with pensions more than their base wage.  Public pensions should be caped at 60 or 70% of the base wage--not the gross pay for the final 3 years. The way the system works now all of these people use the "good old boy" network to get all of the overtime, vacation pay, sick time, ect loaded into their last 3 years of work so they have pensions that sometime hit 250% of what their actual base pay is.  There is no system on earth, except feeding at the public tax troth, that can support people retiring at these figures at age 50 and sometime even 45.  As to the statement that these jobs are dangerous, check the records and you will find that being a cop, firefighter or life guard does not put you in the top 5 spots on any list and not even in the top 10 spots on most. There are hundreds of farm workers, construction workers, miners, ect that get killed on their jobs every year with hardly a blip in the paper or media, but if 1 cop or fireman dies it is front page news for weeks.  I think it is tragic that anyone dies while working but I also do not think one life is worth more than another, just because media machine deems it to be so.
Jul 12, 2011 9:35AM
My best friend is an officer in the Coast Guard and makes less then half of what those Life Guards do and he's chased after drug runners in the Gulf. Take a rescue dive swimmer up in Alaska for example, are they taking in 108,000 dollars a year? I don't think so...
Jul 12, 2011 5:18AM

I am approximately three miles from the beach where I live.  We have a couple part time lifeguards in the summer, and as an example, in my town we had over a half a million people on the beaches for the 4th of July weekend.

"Michael in panama city beach" is at one end of the 'miracle strip', I'm about 100 miles away at the other end of it.  Beautiful white sand beaches packed with tourists all summer long. And as Michael said, practically no lifeguards, and practically no drownings. (When people do drown it's usually boater's/jet skiers that were invariably drunk)  We did have a shark bite this year, but like most years, no swimmers have drown (so far). 

But according to this article, newport california, with far less beach than we have here, and not even remotely close to the number of tourists that we have, "made 2.190 water rescues"  in 2010 alone!  Based on their numbers, 7 million beach visitors / 2,190 rescues, we should have had over 156.43 rescues on the weekend of the 4th alone..........yet we had NONE.   I'd like to know exactly what they consider to be a 'water rescue'.  While the retirement is ridiculous, I am also questioning what they really do while working!

Jul 12, 2011 10:19AM

Gwen and Fred, I could have passed easily when I was 14 through 35, I passed the WSI at 15, I took the CPR instructors exam at 16 and EMT training at 20. I swam 5 miles a day and rode a bike about 75 miles a week. Today I am an Electrical Engineer and develop and write software for the aerospace industry. I don’t make that kind of money or retirement.

Jul 12, 2011 4:22AM

California cities are discovering that some pension plans are sucking them dry.  Newport Beach probably has excellent personnel in those positions and they deserve compensation.  The problem is they should have paid a higher percentage into their own retirements.  Young people coming into the workforce will have to fund more of their retirement plan themselves.  The taxpayers shouldn't have to cough up extra money.

Jul 12, 2011 3:20AM
They may have somewhat of a hazzardous job but still they are paid twice what the job is worth.  Sounds like local government has too much money to waste. Who says ca. has financial problems?
Jul 12, 2011 10:23AM
The taxpayers are getting soaked. Maybe we need to outlaw pensions for the public sector in California.  How about defined-contribution plans for public employees?  But then you have to deal with the Democrats who are in bed with their union buddies.  Pension reform, now,  please.
Jul 12, 2011 5:43AM
our armed forces do a lot more than those glamour people..let those men and women retire at age 50 with that kind of a pension..THEY deserve it!
Jul 12, 2011 10:15AM
California, sunny days, beautiful beaches and a government so completely disconnected with the electorate that this kind of idiousy gets aired out along with the Schwarznegger tale, pathetic!
Jul 12, 2011 11:00AM
TMAC take your I risk my life BS elsewhere by your reasoning there about 100,000 18 to 25 year olds in Afghanistan/Iraq who deserve a million bucks a year. If you take these jobs then it should be because it is your calling and not for any other reason. The death rate in these jobs is nowhere near the top.
Jul 12, 2011 9:46AM
And California complains about broke.  Good enough for them!!!!!!!!!
Jul 12, 2011 8:43AM
 Just to name a very few, the top 400 hundred hedge fund operators in this country earnd ( if you call stealing earnig) a combined 40 BILLION last year and paid 15% income tax. If we implode it wont be for teahers, firemen or lifeguards, inspite of what your told to believe by politicans who are paid by these thieves.
Jul 12, 2011 10:43AM
I have no problem with these people accepting these pensions since they were what was offered. But by the same token, I have zero sympathy for them if the people of CA for decide they don't feel the value they supply is worth the cost and think they could get people to do the job for less. 

Jul 12, 2011 9:10AM
NOBODY knew lifeguards were making this kind of money or there would have been 5 mile long lines waiting to apply. People are just starting to realize why California is going broke.
How many doctors can retire at 50 with a $100,000 a year pension...... answer:  none. How many lawyers retire at 50 with a $100,000 a year pension. 
It is the old union buddy system.  

Where are all the jobs? Why would anyone in their right mind start a business, when you can retire at 50 working for the government. Get EVERY HOLIDAY off, vacation, sick days etc. 

Unions have done to California , what unions did to the Auto industry
Jul 12, 2011 8:27AM
Jusr reading the idiotic posts that agree with this stupidity is enough to make one realize the problem is that  the USA is now filled with morons.
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