Business owners sue city over La Jolla Cove odor caused by sea lions and bird waste

La Jolla Village Merchants Association Executive Director, Sheila Fortune, and George's at the Cove owner, George Hauer, view a sea lion colony at La Jolla Cove that city officials say has caused the stench to return to the Village in full force. "What we have now is a health menace," Hauer said. Pat Sherman photo

By Pat Sherman

Business owners fed up with the pervasive stench at La Jolla Cove — and what they consider the city officials’ reluctance to solve the problem with bold action — filed suit against the City of San Diego in Superior Court last week.

Last month, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria said ridding the Cove of its odor — believed to be caused by excrement on the cliffs from sea lions and cormorants (seabirds) — is a priority for his office.

However, after two years of watching diners overcome by that smell flee his outdoor restaurant patio, George’s at the Cove owner George Hauer is hoping legal action will serve as added incentive for city officials to treat the odor like they would any immediate threat to public health and safety.

“If there was a fire on the cliff, the city could take a hose and put it out (so that nearby structures wouldn’t burn down),” said La Jolla Shores attorney Norm Blumenthal of Blumenthal, Nordrehaug and Bhowmik. Blumenthal filed the suit on behalf of the nonprofit “Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement,” of which Hauer is president.

The suit does not seek damages, Blumenthal said, only for the court to issue an order for the city to abate the nuisance.

“We’re going to get this done in 60 days — that is my goal,” Blumenthal said. “The city is completely inept. This should have been done two-and-a-half years ago. … An odor is a public nuisance, and the city is required by law to abate this public nuisance.”

City workers placed tape over a portion of this sign above La Jolla Cove that once read "No Public Access." Ashley Mackin photo

The suit, also filed on behalf of La Valencia Hotel (which has also lost business due to the odor) further demands that the city reopen human access to the cliffs above La Jolla Cove, as a deterrent to sea lions and cormorants gathering there — an action city officials are currently considering, based on a groundswell of community support. The San Diego City Attorney’s office issued a legal opinion on the proposal in December, which was sent to city staff and the mayor’s office.The city has stated that people are free to walk along the cliffs, though the fence blocks human access from the sidewalk.

On Dec. 20, a La Jolla resident said he witnessed San Diego Park and Recreation workers clearing a few feet of brush behind the fence, as well as a narrow trail leading to the bluff, leading some to believe the city may be ready to add a gate in the fence. Cautionary signs along the fence that read: Unstable Cliffs/Stay Back/No Public Access have been altered, with the statement “No Public Access” covered up with tape (signs near Goldfish Point still read “no public access”).

On Dec. 20, 2013, city workers cleared this area behind the fence, as well as an adjacent trail leading to the bluffs below. Ashley Mackin photo

Hauer’s lawsuit contends that the fence was built “without an environmental impact report and is in violation of (La Jolla’s) Local Coastal Plan, which requires maximizing coastal access.

“Preventing coastal access to the rocks by the public gradually led to a buildup of excrement from sea lions and cormorant birds,” the suit reads, in part. “The installation of caution signs should be more than sufficient to protect the safety of the pedestrians that assume the risk of walking on the rocks.”

At the time of this post, a representative for the city attorney’s office said had not been served a copy of the suit.

An unlikely ally?
The suit was filed in concert environmental law attorney Bryan Pease, known to La Jollans for his efforts to protect the harbor seal rookery south of La Jolla Cove at the Children’s Pool (aka Casa Beach).

Pease first teamed with Blumenthal in 2008, to thwart the city’s planned dispersal of the seals at Children’s Pool.

“There can therefore be no doubt that plaintiff and its attorneys are in favor of protection of marine mammals and seek here only to balance this goal with coastal access and control of noxious odors,” reads the suit, which contends that the distinction between La Jolla’s harbor seal rookery and sea lion colony is an important one.

“Sea lions are much more agile on land than the harbor seals. The sea lions, unlike the harbor seals, can climb high up on rocks and other surfaces above the area the high tides reach. … Due to their lack of agility on land, the areas where the harbor seals defecate are within the mean high tide line, so their waste is flushed into the ocean. … For this reason, the Children’s Pool seals are not the cause of the foul odor that is the subject of this lawsuit.”

— Ashley Mackin contributed to this report.

Oder Eaters: Using an eco-friendly foam, workers try to rid La Jolla Cove of its odor — and a thick crust of bird poop. The City of San Diego spent $100,000 on a two-part cleaning process in 2013, though the stench has returned, courtesy of sea lions. La Jolla Light photo

Related posts:

  1. La Jolla Cove Stench: City to reveal fence removal decision Nov. 15 in effort to thin sea lion colony
  2. Petition signatures spike as Cove stink reaches nauseating fever pitch throughout La Jolla Village
  3. To quash La Jolla Cove odors, city seeks advice from other sea lion towns
  4. La Jolla Cove odors return after summer reprieve, city cites sea lions as the source
  5. Governor responds to La Jolla Cove stench issue; city plans to vacuum offending bird waste

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Posted by Pat Sherman on Dec 26, 2013. Filed under La Jolla, News, Seal Watch. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Comments for “Business owners sue city over La Jolla Cove odor caused by sea lions and bird waste”

  1. DICK hertz

    I agree with and wish to join this unhappy group to protest the protection of wild animals, remember when the pups came into La Jolla and were on the street and on hotel chairs? TOO STINKY!

  2. People on the rocks will not make the sea lions disappear but hasten their migration to occupy the beach. Merchants win, everybody else loses. The beach sea lion presence is undeniable.
    If seal poop at Children’s Pool don’t stink because the tide takes it all away, how come it has been posted for bacterial overload by the health department for 2 decades?
    Note the City’s plan is not to remove the illegal fence, but to install a single gate, like the 3′ opening in the CP rope that is supposed to let people access the beach there, if they have the courage. The only point of agreement is “the City is totally inept”.

  3. Dave

    Anyone who has been on the beach at the childrens pool knows seal poop smells just as bad as seal lion poop. I find it amusing that when it’s a cause he supports, Pease will literally try and convince people thag poop doesn’t stink. It’s funny. What is less funny is the amount of money the stentch from the seals at both the cove and childrens pool is costing la jolla businesses. Clear both beaches!

  4. Hypo Critt

    Is it just me or does it seem every week the LIGHT reports on another lawsuit against the City due to our local District Representative’s inactions or vendettas? Like the others, this one could have been solved many many many moths ago were it not for the ANTI-Business climate out of District 1

    FOR SHAME AGAIN since it will be out tax money being paid for lawsuit after lawsuit…….

  5. Why not allow the restaurants to hunt the sea lions with rifles and harpoons, provided that they add sea lion dishes to their menus?

  6. Anne Reeves

    Am I missing something? Do not the seals, sea lions and sea birds actually belong on this coastline? Were their ancestors not inhabitants of this area long before European Americans appeared on the scene and took the area over, declaring it theirs? Why must humans always assume that their “rights” supersede those of other living animals (and plants, for that matter); that what they want must always take precedence? My spouse and I visited the Cove last week. Yes, the smell is pungent; but then, so are many of the industrial effluents that humans produce. I doubt that the human inhabitants of La Jolla would like to give up on many of those products. Oil refining is one such process which, I can assure La Jollans having lived for two years in Tampico where oil refineries sit along the shore, emits an effluent that far surpasses Sea Lion excrement in its awfulness. But I suppose that is fine with La Jollans, so long as it is other people who have to live with the stenches they do not want, and which enable them to live the lifestyles they expect.

  7. DICK hertz

    Everyone get out of the water:
    SHARKS are circling La Jolla!

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