Judge stands by ruling to keep 'seal rope' down at La Jolla beach

Signs show the competing ideas on beach access. Light file photo
Signs show the competing ideas on beach access. Light file photo

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

The rope at the La Jolla Children’s, intended to discourage people from disturbing the seals, will remain down until the marine mammals’ pupping season resumes Dec. 15.

Superior Court Judge Lisa Foster on Thursday declined to reconsider her June 3 decision ordering that the controversial rope be taken down and denied a request from Animal Protection & Rescue League (APRL) attorney Bryan Pease that a new temporary restraining order should be granted to put the rope back up.

Foster had initially granted a TRO allowing the warning rope to remain up past the end of the seals’ pupping on May 15, when it was supposed to be removed.

But the legal issues involved in the longstanding battle over the rope — designed as a guide to separate pinnipeds from beachgoers — and when it should be up remain.

On July 15, Foster will hear final arguments on Pease’s legal challenge asserting that the Planning Commission acted erroneously in overruling an earlier San Diego City Council decision that the rope should be put up year-round at the pool to protect seals from public harassment.

“What’s new?” the judge asked Pease on Thursday.

Pease said he had signed declarations from two former and two current city council members supporting his contention that the Planning Commission — as a lower legislative body — didn’t have the right to overrule the council’s finding that the rope was needed as a permanent safeguard for the harbor seals.

“The City Council found that the rope barrier doesn’t impede lateral (human) movement at all, while the Planning Commission said it blocked 97 percent of the beach,” said Pease, illustrating the conflict in interpretation by the two legislative bodies.

Pro-seal advocates have for some time been documenting what they allege to be blatant disregard for the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) at Children’s Pool. The act maintains that virtually any activity that disturbs the marine mammals, causing them to be scared into the water, is a violation.

Foster, however, remarked on a video of the recent 80th anniversary celebration of the dedication of Children’s Pool, in which seals were in close proximity to people on the beach but didn’t flush.

“Where is the irreparable harm?” Foster queried.

“People should not be getting that close wild animals,” answered Pease, adding that is why the MMPA was enacted.

“This is just a rehash of old arguments,” said Ken Hunrichs, who wants the public to have access to the beach alongside the seals, after the court hearing.

When asked whether he had ever witnessed seal harassment at the pool, Hunrichs replied, “Not intentionally. Sometimes seals flush when people get too close to take pictures, but that happens during a time of the day when they would normally be going in the water anyway.”

The next hearing on seals at Children’s Pool will be at 2:30 p.m. July 15 in Dept. 60 of the San Diego Superior Court, 330 W. Broadway St.

   
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