Gate Goes In: City creates access to La Jolla Cove cliffs

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Crews work the morning of Dec. 31, 2013 to install a gate in the fence at La Jolla Cove and establish a path leading down to the bluffs so people can access the area now chiefly filled with sea lions. Ashley Mackin

By Pat Sherman

Following months of pressure from residents and business owners, on Dec. 31 the City of San Diego installed a gate in the fence above La Jolla Cove to make it easier for people to walk down onto the bluffs.

A group of La Jollans have been urging the city to re-establish human access to the cliffs as a deterrent to sea lions and cormorants gathering and defecating there, believed to be the source of the foul odor that has besieged the Village in recent years. They argue that there were no sea lions and few birds on the bluffs when people were able to easily access them from Coast Boulevard (before the fence was installed more than a decade ago as a safety precaution).

The San Diego City Attorney’s office issued a legal opinion on the gate installation in November, which was sent to city staff and the mayor’s office. The city says it has always been legal for people to walk along the cliffs, though the fence blocked the most direct access from Coast Boulevard.

On Dec. 20, San Diego Park and Recreation workers cleared brush behind the fence, adjacent a path leading to the bluffs. Cautionary signs along the fence that read: Unstable Cliffs/Stay Back/No Public Access were altered to cover up the statement “No Public Access.”

“The community has made it clear that they want access to those cliffs and that they think that access could alleviate or solve this problem. We’re giving them access with this,” said Alex Roth, a spokesperson for the office of interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “We want to solve this problem. We’re as concerned as everyone in La Jolla is about this situation.”

Roth said city signs along the Cove fence make it clear that people who choose to walk along the cliffs do so at their own risk, just as do people who walk along unfenced ocean bluffs at Sunset Cliffs and other spots along the San Diego County coastline.

San Diego lifeguards will monitor to make sure people don’t injure themselves, or injure or intentionally harass the wildlife, he said.

Roth stressed that the gate is part of a process to rid the Cove of its reek, and not necessarily a magic bullet.

“We’re going to see if this helps. If it does, fantastic; if it doesn’t, we’ll move on to whatever Plan B is,” he said. “We’re going to take this one step at a time and see what happens with this gate. We’ll reevaluate our options at that time. We’re considering a whole other range of options.”

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Sea lions gather on the bluff just below the spot at which city workers installed the gate Dec. 31.

Business owners file suit

Roth said the city decided to install the gate on Dec. 17, three days before a group of La Jolla business owners fed up with the stench — and what they considered officials’ reluctance to solve the problem with bold action — filed suit against the City of San Diego.

George’s at the Cove restaurant owner George Hauer hoped legal action would serve as added incentive for city officials to treat the odor like they would any immediate threat to public health and safety.

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