LOS ANGELES -- As lifeguards begin their busy summer season, the bronzed guardians of California's beaches find themselves at the unlikely center of the battle over costly public pensions.
The six-figure salaries of some full-time municipal lifeguards have fueled talk radio segments and blog comments in recent weeks, with some commentators expressing surprise at the pay for those who patrol the beaches.
For local government, the larger concern is over the pensions that lifeguards receive when they retire. Most full-time lifeguards get the most generous public retirement plan -- the same "public safety" pensions received by police officers and firefighters. Lifeguards argue that they deserve the benefits because they put their lives at risk, not just from rescuing beachgoers but because of an elevated risk of skin cancer from years under the sun.