By Dave Schwab
Despite being unconvinced a rope barrier at La Jolla's Children's Pool needs to be up year-round, city of San Diego hearing officer Ken Teasley nonetheless ruled in favor Wednesday of granting Coastal Development and Site Development permits to do so.
"It's a difficult decision but I can't for the life of me find a reason to deny the permits," said Teasley after 1 ½ hours of public testimony on extending the rope barrier dominated by longtime La Jollans and pro-beach access proponents, with representatives of the pro-seal camp conspicuously absent.
In rendering his decision, Teasley noted he felt conflicted. "It bothers me to approve a (extended) rope barrier when I don't see that it serves any purpose ... that you need it in terms of seal protection ... It's a hindrance to people using the beach," he said.
A rope barrier has been up seasonally the past few years at the popular pool, created in the 1930s by La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps as a safe wading area for children. The barrier separates humans from seals during the marine mammal's Dec. 15 to May 15 pupping season.
Seal advocates have argued publicly and in court that the barrier needs to be up year-round to protect humans from encroaching on harbor seals, which are protected from harassment under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in the 1970s.
Beach-access proponents have countered the rope barrier is unnecessary because a ranger is now in place at the pool, that it sends the wrong message that the pool is not open to public access and that it violates constitutional state law guaranteeing public access to coastal beaches.
One of many questions Teasley posed following public testimony was whether the pool rope barrier actually prohibited public access. "The term barrier is something of a misnomer," answered city staffer Morris Dye. "One can step over or go under the rope, which also has an access opening. The rope is really a buffer between humans and seals to try and prevent harassing the seals from inadvertently happening."
A host of La Jollans testified against year-round placement of Children's Pool rope barrier in perpetuity, arguing it was unnecessary, even counterproductive.
"If you allow these (pool) permits it will make it impossible for the city to control its greatest treasure: it's beaches," argued diver John Leek.
"Children's Pool has become polluted from seal feces and presents a public health hazard and putting the rope barrier up year-round will only make that worse," said physician Richard Moreno.
Judy Klyver raised a different issue about the pool noting it is not ADA-accessible and should be.
La Jolla swimmer John Steel said "seals have overpopulated the beach," noting it's getting to the point where even they may not be able to use it.
Joe LaCava, president of La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), the local community advisory group on land-use issues, also testified, saying "Findings cannot be made for the permits or for a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) exemption."
LaCava added there is a viable alternative to putting the seal rope up year-round: Letting the ranger program mature and develop as it was intended.
Reacting to the outcome of the hearing, longtime La Jollan Melinda Merryweather said, "I think he (Teasley) wanted to absolutely vote to not have the rope. ... I don't know. There's some reason why the other side isn't here."