A proposal to prohibit people from going onto the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla during harbor seals pupping season was postponed by the San Diego City Council Tuesday, Oct. 29.
The proposed beach ban would have been in effect from between Dec. 15 and May 15, when the seals are birthing and weaning their young. According to the city, the move is the next step in protecting the seals because people are continuing to harass them.
Before the City Council had a chance to consider the proposal, however, city staff said an issue with the California Coastal Commission (CCC) had come up and asked for a postponement. It could be January before the plan goes back to the council.
City staff was going to ask the council to designate the beach as an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA), one potential regulatory step that could be used to close the beach to people. The city says protection of fragile coastal resources trumps public beach access in state law, and the CCC staff supports the proposed closure, but not necessarily the ESHA designation.
A letter to the City Council and Interim Mayor Todd Gloria from the Coastal Commission staff dated Oct. 25 states that while CCC staff is "supportive of the city's proposal to impose seasonal restrictions, including full beach closure to the public during the pupping season, we do not support an ESHA designation at Children's Pool as part of the subject LCP (Local Coastal Plan) amendment. Within areas designated as ESHA, only resource-dependent uses are allowed, which would preclude many activities normally associated with the beach, including, but not limited to sunbathing, accessing the water, passive recreational uses and possible repair/maintenance of the breakwater. Under the Coastal Act, marine mammal protection and maximum public access opportunities are both mandated."
The letter goes on to state, "As discussed with city staff, other jurisdictions which have designated marine mammal haul-out areas and/or rookeries as ESHA do not share the same site-specific conditions present at Children's Pool, including its close proximity to an intense urban setting, ease in accessibility, major populations bases for both local residents and visitors at large, dedicated user groups and the city's joint use management strategy that has allowed people and seals to share the beach."
After consulting with its staff ecologist and legal counsel, the letter states, CCC staff "recommends that seasonal restrictions be considered based on the protection of marine resources pursuant to Section 30230 of the Coastal Act."
The CCC letter includes suggested amendments to the city's proposed Local Coastal Program amendment that removes formation of an ESHA as an option.
The city has already erected a rope spanning the beach that's now up year-round to discourage people from getting to close to the seals, but it leaves a three-foot opening to allow access for divers, spear fishers and swimmers who still choose to access the shoreline.
City documents say the rope has "not completely resolved inappropriate interactions between seals and citizens," and that people are continually flushing the seals into the water.
In March, then-Mayor Bob Filner issued an emergency order to close the beach at night to stop harrassment of marine mammals that was caught on videotape. Besides the rope, the city has installed signs asking people to leave the seals alone.
The presence of the marine mammals has been a lightning rod in the area for two decades, pitting beach access advocates against those who support animal rights. The Children's Pool was deeded to the city in 1931 as a sheltered area for kids to swim.