UPDATED: City Council votes for beach closure at La Jolla Children’s Pool during seals pupping season

Beach access proponents and others await the outcome of the City Council's vote during the Feb. 24 meeting. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

Despite a fervent plea by District 1 San Diego City Councilmember Sherri Lightner to preserve shared beach access at Children’s Pool during the seals’ winter pupping season, the council ultimately voted 6-3 to prohibit human access to the beach during pupping season (Dec. 15-May 15).

Voting with Lightner Feb. 24 were council representatives Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman.

“I’m concerned that we are drawing a line in the sand we do not need,” Lightner argued, stating her belief that the seals are already protected by a year-round guideline rope and oversight by a park ranger stationed there.

District 1 Councilmember Sherri Lightner listens as her bid to preserve shared access between humans and marine mammals at Children's Pool beach is rejected by colleagues. Pat Sherman photos

“Seals are not an endangered or even threatened species,” Lightner stressed, adding that she believes a negative declaration (basic environmental document) did not adequately address potential impacts of the closure on other marine resources in the immediate vicinity — including fish populations that have been depleted due to the proliferation of marine mammals.

Lightner noted that Children’s Pool and its protective seawall were funded, built and entrusted to the City of San Diego in the 1930s by La Jolla Philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps as a bathing pool for children.

“I can’t imagine that anyone believed seals would eventually occupy the area and people would not be allowed to use it,” she said.

However, District 9 Councilmember Marti Emerald noted the council’s nearly unanimous vote in 2010 to protect seals by installing a year-round guideline rope, which, according to footage of people touching seals presented during the meeting, she said, hasn’t worked.

“The state legislature granted the city the authority to make some decisions about this beach,” Emerald said. “They said just because a very generous member of the community included this in a trust 80 years ago doesn’t mean that the city has to continue along that vein — especially as times and circumstances change.

“This is not just a La Jolla issue,” Emerald added. “It has become abundantly clear over the years that this tiny piece of beach with these harbor seals has become a regional treasure. …
I have abundant respect and affection for my colleague and friend, Ms. Lightner, but on this issue I have to part company.”

In the end, Lightner’s motion to reject city staff’s recommendation to close the beach was voted down, and a motion by Emerald to accept staff’s recommendation was accepted. Several amendments suggested by Lightner also were rejected.

District 9 Councilmember Marti Emerald makes a motion to accept city staff's recommendation to close Children's Pool beach during the harbor seals' winter pupping season.

“We gave preliminary approval to this very issue four years ago,” Emerald said. “It was held up by then mayor (Jerry) Sanders, who wouldn’t petition the coastal commission as this council requested, and now it’s back here before us. … I believe the community is judged by the way it treats the least of our citizens and how we show reverence and respect for wildlife.”

Before being adopted, the proposed beach closure — which includes amendments to the La Jolla Community Plan — must come before the California Coastal Commission for approval, likely sometime in August.

In the meantime, Lightner said she is working to address the “explosion” in seal and sea lion populations off the La Jolla coast through the creation of a comprehensive coastal management plan (for which she has requested city funding). Lightner said the plan would more effectively address these and related issues along the entire San Diego coastline.

Lightner said the marine mammals are causing “a flood of health and public safety issues, ranging from foul odors and poor water quality to shark sightings, human conflict and blocked access to our public beaches.

“Let’s wait for the results (of the plan), and then look at the objective facts to determine how we’re going to proceed with balancing the needs of people, marine mammals and other coastal sea life,” she pleaded. “What we don’t want are unnecessary or heavily restrictive rules and regulations, or narrowly targeted, piecemeal community plan amendments such as those before you today.”

City advisory groups such as La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc. and the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) have repeatedly opposed closing Children’s Pool beach.

Jim Fitzgerald, a LJCPA trustee who broke ranks with his board colleagues to support the closure, noted that the seals are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

“I had hoped, and I think it’s a hope that was shared on both sides of the issue … that the visual cue represented by the extended guideline rope would have been sufficient to discourage and prevent the unacceptable and unfortunate behavior towards the seals,” he said. “Unfortunately, the visual testimony you’ve seen here today is extremely discouraging. I’m going to ask you to just believe your own eyes. Harassment of the seals and the seal pups — especially during pupping season — continues.

“Some of this harassment and these disturbances are committed out of ignorance, but others, regrettably, are committed out of malice,” Fitzgerald said.

On Jan. 16, the San Diego Planning Commission voted to limit access at Children’s Pool, though not to close the beach entirely.

Similarly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service — which is tasked with implementing the MMPA and helping conserve marine mammal populations — sent a letter to the San Diego City Council Jan. 2 stating its belief that a complete closure of Children’s Pool beach is not necessary to protect harbor seals from MMPA violations.

Seal advocates await the city council's vote on Feb. 24.

“The MMPA does not require that beaches be closed, or that people maintain any specific distance from the animals,” the letter states. “Rather, the MMPA generally prohibits the harassment, hunting, capturing or killing of marine mammals.”

The MMPA defines harassment as “acts of pursuit, torment or annoyance that have the potential to injure the animals or disrupt natural behavior.”

The nearly four-hour City Council hearing grew contentious at several junctures, resulting in a woman being ejected from council chambers after repeatedly disrupting proceedings.

At one point, Emerald referenced a video of beach access advocate and diver John Leek climbing over the railing at the tip of the Children’s Pool seawall, onto a boulder, and executing what appeared to be a reverse cannonball (view footage here). The video, filmed last weekend by seal advocate and attorney Bryan Pease, shows startled seals reacting by scurrying into the water, or “flushing,” which is considered harassment under the MMPA.

In response, Emerald initially suggested amending city staff’s recommendation to also make it unlawful for people to be on any land or rocks touching the seawall.

“That means no cannonball jumps to flush these seals,” she said.

“I did not cannonball; I tripped and fell!” Leek erupted, after which he left council chambers.

In response to reports of stillborn pups at Children’s Pool, and those being abandoned and left to die by frightened and harassed mother seals, Councilmember Scott Sherman — who seconded Lightner’s failed motion — asked whether there have been studies conducted on pup mortality at Children’s Pool.

“I heard somebody talking about a 50 percent mortality (rate) in the first year for harbor seals in nature,” Sherman said. “Is there anything to show that it’s higher at the Children’s Pool?”

A city staffer responded that they weren’t aware of any such studies, and that such statistics weren’t considered in analysis used to justify closure.

Sherman also requested an accounting of the ranger’s duties at the Children’s Pool.

“I’ve not seen anybody standing there saying, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be standing so close to the seals,’ ” Sherman said. “What does our staff do?”

Children’s Pool ranger Richard Belesky replied that his job is to “explain and enforce city policy and to keep the peace.

“I’m not necessarily a seal guard,” he said. “I’m the only ranger assigned. I work six hours a day at the most.”

“Sounds like you might need a little more help down there,” Sherman suggested.

Related posts:

  1. Coastal Commission to rule on year-round seal rope July 11
  2. La Jolla beach closure? Next harbor seal pupping season starts Sunday, Dec. 15
  3. Mayor shares details of recently installed ‘seal cam’ at La Jolla Children’s Pool
  4. UPDATED (Jan. 25): Webcam to monitor seals installed at La Jolla Children’s Pool
  5. Mayor extends length of pupping season rope at La Jolla Children’s Pool

Short URL: http://www.lajollalight.com/?p=121149

Posted by Pat Sherman on Feb 26, 2014. Filed under Featured Story, 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.

6 Comments for “UPDATED: City Council votes for beach closure at La Jolla Children’s Pool during seals pupping season”

  1. Bill

    Just another reason for La Jolla to separate from an overbearing City of San Diego. I’m sorry, Marti Emerald, this IS a La Jolla issue, and those who don’t live in LJ shouldn’t be involved in making this kind of momentous decision.

    Local solutions to local problems. Let’s get organized and create the City of La Jolla. We can do this!

  2. Bill

    “They said just because a very generous member of the community included this in a trust 80 years ago doesn’t mean that the city has to continue along that vein — especially as times and circumstances change.”

    That’s because the City of San Diego, through neglect and incompetence, ALLOWED things to change.

  3. Clubber

    Seals are parasites. Drive them off or club them.

  4. DICK hertz

    I do appreciate that the seal activists who were yelling at vsiitors have been quiet, but it is not the job of a city to act as a wildlife aretaker. There will be more desperate calls from old retired women to Sea World to come andsave the pups. “Just say NO to the seals”

  5. Mr Mayweather

    You should be ashamed of your coverage of this article. Its very apparent where you stand by the way you put it in the back pages. The country is So sorry wildlife is tarnishing “your” jewel.

  6. Ms. Emerald should be very ashamed of herself as well as the others who voted against the disabled this day in court. She looked right at the Disabled American Veteran who spoke, ,and dishonored him, and our Disabled Veterans as did all those who voted to close the only safe Ocean Pool access that was built especially for children and ” Especially for those handicapped in life’s game” ( E.Scripps 1932). The ramp that was put in in 1948 was the primary access to the pool, not the stairways. In 1984 and 1988 the Light reported that funding was approved to improve the Ramp and cement it to upgrade it especially for the ‘current wheelchair access needs’ . We have more disabled now than in 1932. San Diego is a military town literally pumping our paraplegics. Now who needs the breakwater protection more? A parplegic United States Navy Seal, or a harbor seal who are excellent swimmers? We disabled have been blocked from our pool for decades as the pinnepeds are allowed to devistate the undersea ecology and wipe out species. It is an ecological disaster of huge proportions and our new mayor and all those who voted to close the Children’s Pool are responsible for the devistation of the undersea ecology, the loss of species, and the starvation of the sea lions. I hold the City and those who voted to close the pool responsible for closing the only safe harbor south of the Cove, and at least one drowning has already occured in a past seal politics closure. The rip tide adjoing at the Adjoing Beach , Shell Beach is the worst one in S. CA. and is not a safe alternative exit on the coastline. I hold the City of San Diego responsible for any further drownings and for the loss of habitat including mussels, tide pool creatures and our State Marine Fish the Garibaldi. No EIR was done prior to Sea World’s releases beginning in 1992 of many pinnepeds to determine if the undersea ecosytem could sustain so many new marine mammals, no fish stocks or species inventories taken and no ongoing studies by the World Famous Oceanographic institutes in relation to the on going population explosions. Our MPA will never have the chance to really be abundant, like Cabo Pulmo is. The pinnepeds are devouring all the fish stocks and the feces contaminating the shallows constantly and the Tide Pool Creatures are gone or going quickly. How many jobs and careers are built upon seals and sea lions? Many . They have truly become a comodity for funds, and no institute is helping the balance of the undersea ecosystem at Children’s Pool, South Casa or Shell Beach Seal Rock Area. Barren Wasteland is what its becomjng as a result of such votes. Its now OK to flush sea lions at the Cove . At Children’s Pool, when closed will only seriously exacerbate the over population and the devisation of the ecosystems.
    The breakwater is crumbling the disabled are barred, the elderly have no way to enter the Ocean Pool, the toddlers loose out. When San Diego could restore the pool, open the sluice ways and be on the ADA Map of the World and honor our veterans, our Wounded Warriors and give our Challenged Athletes a world class ocean pool for their safety . Clean water for all mammals. We all love the seals and should also love their home, the ocean and keep the balance. The East Coast sea populations are into the thousands and their fish stocks will never recover. Who is caring for the mussels, and the Garibaldi and the dolphins fish stocks now being eaten by the over populated seals and sea lions? Balance is gone and closing the pool will make it much worse and the e. Coli bacteria airborn to the elderly acrosss the street and the stench of the filthly sand that never washes clean will only be worse. Terrible vote and terrible City Attorney to gossip that a Ramp will not fit there , An ADA Ramp fits perfectly and should go in along with the ADA shower. Shame on San Diego and our new mayor who have voted AGAINST the disabled at the very pool built for them and the only one in existance. Shameful. Must be some very good kickbacks from the Seal opps. The City voted to bait the swimming areas for sharks, how many deaths will it take for the City to wise up?

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