UPDATED: City Attorney says 'shared use' working as La Jolla seal rope reinstalled

Jerry Horna, president pro tem of La Jolla Friends of the Seals, and fellow seal advocate Dr. Jane Reldan, discuss the ongoing conflict at Children’s Pool. Pat Sherman photos
Jerry Horna, president pro tem of La Jolla Friends of the Seals, and fellow seal advocate Dr. Jane Reldan, discuss the ongoing conflict at Children’s Pool. Pat Sherman photos
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Jerry Horna, president pro tem of La Jolla Friends of the Seals, and fellow seal advocate Dr. Jane Reldan, discuss the ongoing conflict at Children’s Pool. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherma

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As city employees prepare to reinstall a rope barrier at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool on Dec. 15, San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is touting what he is calling the success of “shared use” between humans and seals at the Children’s Pool (also known as Casa Beach).

Presently, a 130 linear-foot rope barrier is up only during the seal’s pupping season, through May 15. It provides a path for divers to access the water — while serving as a psychological buffer suggesting that humans should stay away from pregnant seals. (The San Diego City Council and California Coastal Commission have both recommended the rope be 152 feet in length, though a permit was only issued for a 130-foot rope due to a miscalculation by city workers.)

City prevails in seal suits

Superior court Judge Joel Pressman ruled in favor of the City of San diego Nov. 13 in two lawsuits involving the seals at children’s Pool — one filed by seal advocates and another filed by beach access proponents.

In a case filed by seal advocate and attorney Bryan Pease on behalf of the Animal Protection and Rescue League, Pressman declined to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the city to immediately install the rope, prior to pupping season . The animal rights group is challenging the San Diego Planning Commission's denial of the year-round rope.

In the other case, Pressman granted the city’s request to dismiss a lawsuit requiring it to disperse the seals. David Pierce, Director of the San Diego Council of Divers, said Pressman gave the plaintiff's attorney 20 days  to respond with a brief, which Pierce said will focus on the issue of the public's right to access the beach for fishing, not to clear the beach of seals.

The court ruled to disburse the seals once before, via methods as diverse as hosing the marine mammals with water to playing amplified recordings of barking dogs.  That decision was dismissed when bipartisan state legislation suggested by Goldsmith (AB 428) established children’s Pool as a marine mammal park.

“SB 428 was intended to end legal objections to the city’s policy of shared use (between) humans and seals,” Goldsmith said. “Unfortunately, the lawyers have recently come back hoping to overturn SB 428 and reignite the litigation.”

The 300-foot seawall at children’s Pool, bankrolled by Ellen Browning Scripps in 1931, paved the way for the city to grant the beach in trust to the city as a “bathing pool for children.”

In 2009, SB 428 amended the terms of that trust to “give the (city) council the discretion to create a marine mammal park at the Children’s Pool for the enjoyment and benefit of children,” Goldsmith said in a release.

Meanwhile, people on both side of the issue are holding fast to rulings in their favor.

In 2010 the San Diego City Council ruled in favor of closing the seal rookery during pupping season and installing the rope at Children’s Pool year-round. The later decision was echoed this year by the California Coastal Commission.

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