BY DAVE SCHWAB
The City Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously agreed with an appeal from the La Jolla Community Planning Association that the rope barrier protecting seals at the Children's Pool should not be allowed year-round in perpetuity.
In rendering their 7-0 vote, commissioners ruled that neither environmental and land-use findings, nor the necessity for justifying keeping the barrier up beyond the Dec. 15 to May 15 pupping season, could be made. The vote after a nearly three-hour hearing nullifies a September decision by a city hearing officer in favor of the year-round rope, something that was supported by the previous City Council — but rejected by Mayor Jerry Sanders.
The commission’s decision can be appealed to the California Coastal Commission but not the City Council.
Longtime La Jollans who have been lobbying the city to support access at the popular beach created more than 70 years ago as a safe wading area for children were elated and surprised by the commission’s lopsided decision.
“I’m shocked,” said Michele Addington, a beach-access proponent who felt going in to the meetig that her side would prevail — only not so overwhelming.
Those who want the rope up throughout the year to separate the seals from people had argued the barrier is just symbolic and is necessary ybecause there will always be people who don’t keep a proper, respectful distance from wildlife.
“It’s not a fence — the rope is just a guideline,” said Dorota Valli of the Animal Protection and Rescue League. “It doesn’t prohibit people from going on the beach and accessing the water.”
“The rope maintains a safe buffer between people and seals,” said Jerry Horn with La Jolla Friends of the Seals.
“A guideline rope year-round would allow at least some measure of public awareness and protection for harbor seals hauled out on the sand,” agreed Ellen Shively, president of La Jolla Friends of the Seals.
First District City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who argued the “process” involved in approving the rope barrier had been flawed, was uncertain her argument had swayed the commissioners.
“The process was not transparent and the public was left out,” she said.
She said she was concerned that the public wasn't given adequate notice that the staff had determined “a project of this magnitude that was categorically exempt from CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act)" especially since it's an issue that has generated so much public scrutiny.
“We’ve now hired a full-time ranger who will start a volunteer docent program that, as time goes on, will be successful at Children’s Pool in ways an obtrusive rope barrier will never be able to achieve,” Lightner added.
Planning association president Joe LaCava said, “This is a barrier that keeps the public away from the beach and shoreline,” he said. “It is a hindrance to people using the beach and it does not maintain or enhance vertical or lateral access. The project conflicts with the elements of the local coastal plan and therefore you cannot make the findings and you must deny the project development application.”
Planning Commissioner Tim Golba, a La Jolla architect, said, "This is a 133-foot rope and only 3 feet of that is open,” he said. “That’s a 98 percent impediment and to me that is a stumbling block.”
Melinda Merryweather struck a nostalgic chord in her testimony.
“I grew up in La Jolla swimming at Children’s Pool, my grandmother, mother and children swam there, and now I want my grandchildren to swim there,” she said.
— City News Service contributed to this report.