Are our clean beaches endangered?
April 13, 2011
They’re scrambling to figure out how to maintain the county’s beaches and restrooms during the oncoming peak season after losing more than two dozen staffers who’d been hired with federal stimulus funds that are no longer available. At the same time, the department, like others in the county, cannot backfill for vacancies.
The impact, said LA County Department of Beaches and Harbors’ Chief Deputy Director Kerry Silverstrom, is unlikely to escape the public.
“We have an international reputation for clean beaches,” she said. “That will probably change.”
Beginning May 1, the Beaches and Harbors Department says it will consolidate last summer’s three overlapping shifts into just one, with the primary focus being to keep the beaches and restrooms clean during peak attendance. This means that, at some beaches, there’ll be no maintenance staff during early morning and evening hours.
With fewer workers, some previously performed maintenance will inevitably suffer, beach officials acknowledged. That includes large debris removal, weed abatement and even replacing damaged volleyball nets. But beach officials stressed that the financial situation is fluid and that they can’t say for sure exactly what services will be most impacted.
The Department of Beaches and Harbors—which maintains 17 beaches across 25 miles of coastline, with 52 bathrooms and 36 parking lots—first announced changes in bathroom service hours in a statement on Monday, saying “some restrooms may not be opened and serviced until as late as 11:00 a.m. year-round.”
Some news outlets followed up with stories in which they reported that bathrooms might be closed for days. This prompted irate phone calls from the public. The department responded on Facebook by saying that there will be no closures during the summer season and that the changes in hours would “allow limited staff to provide restroom cleaning later into the afternoon when beach usage is heaviest.”
Silverstrom said that both the frequency and intensity of cleanings would suffer because of the reduced numbers of maintenance workers, especially later in the day. Previously, all restrooms were opened by 6 a.m. But tentative plans now call for opening some at around 8 a.m. and others not until about 11 a.m.
Department officials said they do not yet know how many restrooms would be impacted but stressed that the most crowded would get the most attention. The use of portable toilets has been suggested but Silverstrom said she believes this could cause consternation among residents and beachgoers.
Aside from bathrooms, beachgoers will likely notice other issues stemming from the reduction in staff, including parking.
Maintenance staff has been responsible for opening and closing the lots in years prior. Now that they’ll be reporting 2 hours later to their shifts, Beaches and Harbors is trying to figure out how to still get the lots opened early and closed late. Some lots, including a dozen at Zuma Beach, will not be affected because early-arriving power equipment operators will open them. Officials are still determining how to get them locked up at night.
The department said it will also make sure that 5 lots identified as among the county’s most popular will also be opened at 6 a.m. Under one tentative plan, another 6 lots in relatively safe locations would be kept open around the clock. At least one lot, at Nicholas Beach, will open later in the day.
All these challenges are exacerbated, of course, by the consistently large draw of the county’s beaches. Last year was considered a “bad weather year” for LA County beaches. Still, Silverstrom estimates that 60 million visitors came to play in the sand and surf—10 million more than in 2008.