UPDATED (Jan. 25): Webcam to monitor seals installed at La Jolla Children’s Pool

A worker installed a surveillance camera atop the condemned lifeguard tower at Children's Pool beach Thursday afternoon. A representative from Mayor Filner's office has been slow to respond to reports that Filner authorized installation of the camera. Pat Sherman photos
A worker installed a surveillance camera atop the condemned lifeguard tower at Children's Pool beach Thursday afternoon. A representative from Mayor Filner's office has been slow to respond to reports that Filner authorized installation of the camera. Pat Sherman photos
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A worker installed a surveillance camera atop the condemned lifeguard tower at Children's Pool beach Thursday afternoon. Mayor Filner's office has been slow to respond to reports that Filner authorized installation of the camera. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

A surveillance camera was installed atop the condemned lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool beach Jan. 24, which will be used to monitor harbor seals, and ostensibly potential harassment of pregnant seals and their pups.

It was unclear at press time whether permits were required for installation of the camera, or who at the city approved its installation.

Once functional, the live video feed will be available for viewing on the website of the 

Western Alliance for Nature

(WAN), founded by Larry Wan, husband of former California Coastal Commissioner and seal advocate, Sara Wan. Multiple sources told the

La Jolla Light

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner approved installation of the camera, to be funded by WAN.

Reached for comment at her Malibu home, Sara Wan said, “We would like this to go through the mayor; this is really his thing.”

A notice on the WAN website announced: “The Western Alliance for Nature and the City of San Diego invite you to watch our harbor seals give birth, nurse and care for their newborns in real time.”

David Pierce, director of the San Diego Council of Divers told the

Light

, “Mayor Filner has bypassed the permitting process again, just as he did when he extended the pupping season rope. Mayor Filner should be setting an example for citizens to follow, not to violate the law but to go through (the city’s) governmental process.”

Ken Hunrichs, president of the pro-beach access group, Friends of the Children’s Pool, said he feels it “improper” to allow a webcam to be installed “on public property to promote the website of a private organization.

“When cell phone antennas are placed on city-owned buildings or property, the city is provided a royalty or compensation of some kind. It would be interesting to see if WAN is paying such a fee,” he said.

WAN describes itself as “a land conservancy that works with state and federal agencies, and partners with other conservancies and non-profit organizations to purchase, restore and manage critical ecosystems. … We have no paid staff. Officers and directors receive no compensation. Overhead and administrative costs are funded by the founders. Therefore, donors can make a significant contribution to conservation because 100 percent goes directly to the conservation project.”

Earlier this month, the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) voted to draft a letter to the mayor, in response to his decision to extend the guideline rope at Children’s Pool beach. At Filner’s urging, city workers extended the rope last month before required permits for the work were obtained.

The rope, which is intended to keep humans and seals a safe distance apart during the fin-footed mammals’ pupping season (Dec. 15-May 15), was supposed to be 152 feet in length per a 2010 vote of the San Diego City Council. That length leaves a three-foot opening for divers and spear fishermen to access the shoreline. But in 2010, city staff mistakenly approved coastal development and site development permits for a 130-foot rope, which resulted in an opening of about 20 feet.

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Lifeguards and seal advocates say the three-foot gap is keeping the pupping seals safe, but pro beach-access residents are unhappy with Mayor Filner's autonomous rope extension. Pat Sherman

Seal advocates say the wider gap emboldens visitors to disregard the rope and signage suggesting that the public stay 50 feet from the seals, and asked for Filner to rectify the situation. Filner obliged and instructed city staff to extend the rope to curtail potential harassment of seals.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith then issued a memo outlining potential repercussions of the mayor not first obtaining the proper permits, in which Goldsmith opined that Filner’s action could open the city up to litigation or penalties of up to $30,000.

The LJCPA’s letter, dated Jan. 18, reaffirms beach access advocates’ opposition to a guideline rope at the beach at any time of the year.

La Jolla residents “have made it clear to the La Jolla Community Planning Association that they are opposed to the recently lengthened rope at the Children’s Pool,” the letter states. “As a result, the LJCPA voted on Jan. 3, 2013 to inform you and your staff of our position and previous actions regarding this important community matter.”

LJCPA board member and animal rights advocate Jim Fitzgerald was the lone vote against drafting the letter, which concludes by stating, “The La Jolla Community Planning Association urges the mayor and city staff to abide by the conditions of the (existing 132-foot) rope barrier permit and the voices of the community. We wish to preserve limited and reasonable access to the Children’s Pool and maintain joint use of its coastal water.”

Explaining his dissenting vote, Fitzgerald told the

La Jolla Light

"the rope extension has already produced a win-win situation for the seals and the community" by reducing "the incidences of the animals being disturbed" and making the buffer's purpose "more explicit and more understandable to the public."

Seal advocate Dr. Jane Reldan also said that the 152-foot rope is working as intended (as one lifeguard commented to the

Light

).

“The difference between the current three-foot opening and the former, gaping 25-foot opening is that visitors are not confused and now automatically stay behind the rope,” Reldan said. “Without the extra length, visitors ignore the rope and approach the seals even to touch them, causing them to flush, (flee rapidly into the ocean in fear). This flushing behavior interferes with the seals’ rest and thermoregulation, which is particularly deleterious to mother and young in these critical final months prior to pupping.

“Unless the professional harassers are present on the sidewalk or on the sand telling people to go close to the seals, ... most people comply with the city’s recommendation,” she said.

Beach access advocate Melinda Merryweather, one of those present at the LJCPA meeting who suggested the group write the mayor, noted that the LJCPA, La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc. all have voted against the rope barrier.

Beach access advocates have said for years they’d rather have the city use approved methods of urging the seals to relocate to another area, such as Seal Rock, she said.

“If somebody was to come and build a SeaWorld in La Jolla they’d have to provide the parking for it, and no parking has ever been provided for this attraction,” said Merryweather, who feels the seals have polluted Children’s Pool beach and are a lure for sharks.

Merryweather provided

La Jolla Light

with copies of

National Geographic

feature stories from 1949 and 1952 that tout the Children’s Pool as an international destination for spear fishermen and free divers, decades before the seals arrived at Children’s Pool. Photos of Children’s Pool beach in both issues show no seals on the beach (in contrast to seal advocates’ claim that they have always been at the beach, Merryweather noted).

“There is a rhyme and reason for the Children’ Pool,” she said. “For someone to just come along a say we want it for something else is ridiculous, (especially) from a mayor who said he was going to listen to the communities.”

Merryweather said the three-foot opening is not wide enough for divers to haul their gear onto the beach.

“We are a community of surfers and divers and fishermen and the Children’s Pool means the world to us,” she said. “Someday the seals will up and move and everyone’s going to feel pretty foolish for trying to cram this down our throats.”

   
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