By Dave Schwab
The smell from hell is where La Jollans dwell.
Which is why there’s a public outcry from those tired of holding their noses downwind of the Cove to find a way to curb the odor problem at one of La Jolla’s most notable landmarks and tourist attractions.
“Some days it’s just sickening — it can be just devastating,” said longtime La Jollan Melinda Merryweather, who attributes the stench, in part, to a Cove fence denying human access to cliff rocks, which has allowed birds to nest and excrete there freely.
“It’s stinky,” agreed restaurateur George Hauer, owner of George’s at the Cove. “Anybody who says it doesn’t smell is not in the neighborhood. It is so prominent, every time when the wind shifts and everybody goes … it’s not something you can ignore.”
Megan Heine, owner of Brockton Villa restaurant, which is perched atop the Cove, agreed. “It has been extremely frustrating, realizing it’s affected our guests’ experience,” she acknowledged. “But we can’t control the natural environment. When the tides are really low and the rocks don’t get washed off the smell intensifies.”
Though the smell coming from the Cove may be nauseous, it’s unlikely to be noxious, said one health official.
“Although there are odiferous compounds, like smoke and ammonia, that can result in health impacts, in this case, bird feces is most likely not harmful,” said Robert Kard, an officer with the San Diego Air Pollution Control District. He said fecal matter would have to be dried out, pulverized, and dispersed by wind to be a contaminant, which doesn’t apply at the Cove. “It wouldn’t be an inhalation hazard,” he said.
It is uncertain which species — birds or pinnipeds — contribute more to the stench at the Cove, or are equally to blame.
Regardless, those impacted, like Heine, agree something needs to be done about the foul smell. She, however, is sensitive that “an artificial or chemical solution” might despoil the environment.
Carlos Sebastian of The SolRac Wellness Company in North Hollywood claims to have the answer to the Cove odor problem: Prefered Water Alternative.
A non-toxic, biomass agent that he distributes, Sebastian insists it’s a can’t-miss odor extinguisher, used successfully for years in diverse venues from dairy farms to zoos.
“It’s not a chemical,” he said of his product. “It’s derived from pomegranate and chia seeds creating the perfect environment for eliminating odiferous smell.”
Noting the biomass combination he markets is activated by humidity, Sebastian said that makes it ideally suited to treating coastal environments like La Jolla’s.
“Because you’re right near the ocean there’s enough humidity where you don’t have to use tons and tons of the product because it actually establishes in a treated area propagating itself,” he said, adding the agent actually works better in salt water and can be easily applied with a backpack sprayer.
“I’ve been using this product for 40 years now and we’ve had no fails — and no health issues,” Sebastian said. “We’ve had no complaints. And the product itself is as benign as drinking water.”
The question remains about who is responsible for doing something about eradicating bad smells down at the Cove.
“That area we do not claim because it is a natural area,” said Stacey LoMedico with the City’s Park and Recreation Department. “It is not something we have the resources for, nor is it anything we’ve done previously. I would say the smell is clearly worse this year because of the lack of rain, and because heat exacerbates the smell.”
LoMedico said the city is investigating the chemical properties of Prefered Water Alternative, and will render an opinion soon on whether it is something that could conceivably be used to counteract Cove odor.
But LoMedico cautioned any product would have to be demonstrated, irrefutably, to be harmless to the environment or wildlife, which might be difficult to prove to environmental regulatory agencies.
Another issue with Prefered Water Alternative is that it would come at a significant cost: an estimated $18,000 initially to apply the first year, then up to $1,000 annually to maintain.
But in addressing the Cove stench problem, Mitch Thrower, chairman of nonprofit The La Jolla Foundation (not to be confused with the La Jolla Community Foundation) has volunteered to help raise monies to eradicate the odor by creating the “La Jolla Aroma Fund,” a small sub-fund of the Foundation.
Thrower, an entrepreneur, financier, business strategist, author and triathlete, said proceeds from this yet-to-be-established fund could be used exclusively for “the control and elimination of the bacteria and odor caused from the 30-40 tons of uncontrolled fecal matter and urine now deposited on and around the coast cliffs and sand.”
He points out “SeaWorld uses extensive waste- and odor- removal techniques to keep people safe from the hazards and offensive aromas generated by their animals on site. La Jolla should as well. The La Jolla Cove, Children’s Pool and the surrounding areas are some of the most popular living, tourist, swimming, surfing and diving locations in the world. It only makes sense for us to address this danger and disgusting smell.”