Home Press Longtime SC Lifeguard Steve Long Retires

Longtime SC Lifeguard Steve Long Retires

By Rebecca Nordquist - San Clemente Times

Retiring California State Parks Visitor Services Chief Steve Long leaves San Clemente and a 34-year lifeguard career, but keeps an eye to the future of San Onofre State Beach

Today Steve Long is giving what he calls a $2.50 tour of San Onofre State Beach. It starts at the California Department of Parks and Recreation offices off Avenida del Presidente for a quick geographic and historic overview of the area and then it’s in the truck for the tour of the nearly 1,000-acre state beach.

For the last three months or so, this is a fairly typical day for Long. It’s how he’s ending his 34-year career as lifeguard and visitor services chief with the California State Parks: raising awareness of San Onofre State Beach at a time when it’s the center of the toll road battle and the state is proposing massive budget cuts. He’s taken journalists, community leaders, military personnel and politicians, including Bobby Shriver whose brother-in-law is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on these tours, which are also part of a bigger plan. He’s laying the groundwork for the San Onofre Foundation, a nonprofit organization that would help protect and preserve San Onofre State Beach.

“I’m blessed with a career of 34 years in a department whose job it is to maintain and protect what I call sacred places,” says Long, sitting in his office that was once a mule stall in the renovated 1933 California Conservation Corps building. “It’s easy for me to do this and give back.”

Long, however, will be giving back from a remote location: He and his wife of 37 years, Jan Long, are moving to Sisters, Ore.—two hours away from Springfield, where Long lived as a boy. Born in Fort Ord in Monterey and “shipped off six days later” to Oregon, Long calls himself an Army brat, as his father was in the military and the family moved around often. He even spent time on his aunt’s farm in the Pacific Northwest, and his father’s side of the family lived and farmed in Yuma, Ariz. “I have a little bit of farm boy in me,” says 58-year-old Long with a laugh.

But living only three hours from the Oregon coast, Long found his way to the beach, surfing and meeting local surfers. It was a time that would plant the seed for his love of lifeguarding, the ocean environment and eventually Southern California beaches and parks. Soon Long edged his way down the West Coast, studying at UC Davis where he met his wife in 1969. The couple married two years later and have three children, Heather Newell, 27, who just married Erik Newell in October; and renown big-wave surfers Rusty Long, 26; and Greg Long, 24. In 1974, Long landed a job as a full-time lifeguard with Huntington State Beach—thus beginning his career with the California State Parks—and came to San Clemente in 1978.

And though Long is now leaving his career behind, he’s not leaving the State Parks system behind, especially, as it sits in the middle of the toll road controversy and the state has proposed budget cuts that would affect parks statewide, including San Onofre State Beach, San Clemente State Park and San Mateo Campground. “This district [the Orange Coast District, South Sector] is the most complex district in the entire State Parks system,” says Long, whose successor is Rich Haydon. “We have the greatest attendance, we take in the greatest amount of revenue, we have the highest operating expenses, with no additional support coming. We’ve gotten to that point where something has to give, and that’s why there’s the talk of closures and reductions.”

While closures aren’t a threat in this district, reductions are likely. “The [proposed] impacts down here are reductions in our part-time labor force, which includes our seasonal lifeguards, our entrance station staff, the people that are cleaning the restrooms and hauling the trash, some of our part-time law enforcement assistants that we hire in the summer months and virtually all of our education and interpretation staff,” he says.

In addition, Long also views the proposed Foothill-South (241) Toll Road extension as a danger to San Onofre State Beach. The park lies on more than 1,000 acres and stretches down 1.5 miles of beach from the Orange and San Diego counties border south to San Onofre Creek and carves out a wedge of land between the county line and San Mateo Creek—almost back to Avenida Pico. The proposed route, which was rejected by the Coastal Commission in February and is now being appealed with the Secretary of Commerce, would run through the park. “San Onofre is truly the main battleground for this crossroads of wills in modern civilization,” says Long. “Here we have the desire for the economic engine to continue to turn and build infrastructure to allow further building inland and create access—maybe alleviate a little traffic. Interstate 5 still needs to be widened, and Caltrans has always intended to widen it through San Clemente, and that can be done with not nearly the impacts TCA [Transportation Corridor Agencies] has implied.” He adds that overhauling existing roads such as Cristianitos Road—though he realizes that means engaging the Department of the Navy, which operates that road near Camp Pendleton—would soften the environmental, aesthetic and cultural impact of a six-plus-lane toll road.

These viewpoints exemplify why Long has worked for the past two years to establish the San Onofre Foundation. “My task has been to reach out to the stakeholders,” says Long. “First identifying them and then getting them out on this tour and giving a presentation and vision of what this foundation could become and its importance and significance in terms of helping to create a vision for the future of San Onofre.”

To date Susan Ambrose, who’s helped with the documentation and legal process of forming the nonprofit, and Dennis Lindeman, of Pacific Coast National Bank, have played integral roles in the development of the foundation. Long has also reached out to community leaders including Dick Baker, former president of Ocean Pacific; Mike Gerard, executive director of Surfing America; Steve Pezman, founder of The Surfer’s Journal; and Bob Mignogna, former publisher of Surfing magazine, among several other key contacts.

“It’s about as pure a vision as I could imagine,” says Mignogna, who’s now a surf industry mergers and acquisition consultant. “Steve [Long] is absolutely a wonderful person to create a vision for the foundation, because he’s lived and worked here for over 30 years. I’ve never met anybody who’s more in love with every aspect of the State Parks.”

Long equates the creation of the San Onofre Foundation to building a boat, and now he’s looking “for passengers to take it on an adventure and shape the direction the foundation will go.” “It’s emphatically not my foundation,” says Long, who notes that in addition to supporting education and interpretive components at the park, the first major capital project would be creating a safe crossing at Trestles. “It’s something the community will have a voice in and help steer what the future of San Onofre will be.”

While Long is looking toward the future of San Onofre, many of his colleagues and friends are looking back and remembering his daily contributions to the State Parks and the community. “He gave 100 percent every day and never let his employees down or the public down,” says Mike Brousard, who’s worked with Long since 1978. “He’s been such a foundation and a touch point for so many people at the State Park and the community at large. He was always involved, coaching baseball, an active member in the community, an outstanding family man, a real inspiration for all of us—and he’s become a friend to all of us.”

With Long, it seems, everyone got his or her $2.50 worth—plus change.

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