More people join lawsuit over La Jolla Cove stench; complaint amended to reflect gate installation

Artist Robert Higgins does some plein-air painting after learning that city workers installed a gate above La Jolla Cove. Higgins said he hoped his presence would also help disperse birds and sea lions from the cliffs below. “I think this is going to have a beneficial effect,” Higgins said of the gate. “It’s going to keep them from making this a sea lion hotel.” Pat Sherman

By Pat Sherman

More than 20 La Jollans have joined a nonprofit organization formed to sue the City of San Diego for failing to rid La Jolla Cove of its sickening odor.

During a morning meeting held at La Valencia Hotel on Jan. 2, those invited to the meeting paid a nominal $1 fee to become members of Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement, a nonprofit group started by George’s at the Cove owner, George Hauer, and La Valencia’s managing director, Mark Dibella.

La Jolla Shores attorney Norm Blumenthal of Blumenthal, Nordrehaug and Bhowmik filed the suit in Superior Court on behalf of the group, of which Hauer is president. Blumenthal is working on the suit pro bono.

Sources close to 

La Jolla Light

said those invited were affiliated with La Jolla businesses, beach access advocates or community stakeholders who have been working with the city to address the odor issue.

The group’s complaint has been amended to reflect the city’s installation of a gate above La Jolla Cove, which was added to facilitate legal human access to the bluffs — an action the Dec. 20 suit initially requested as a deterrent to sea lions and seabirds gathering and defecating there.

“We’re making progress; it’s a good first start,” Blumenthal said of the gate, “but we think there also should be some handrails on the rocks if pedestrians are going to walk there, so they can have a place for sure footing, so they won’t slip and fall.”

La Jolla fire safety personnel check out a trail leading to the bluffs above La Jolla Cove. The city increased access to the bluffs on Dec. 31, 2013 by installing a gate in the fence along Coast Boulevard. Pat Sherman

Blumenthal said several people at the meeting had already accessed the gate to venture onto the bluffs. Their presence scattered the birds, but hasn’t yet had a big impact on the sea lions, he said, adding that the nuisance abatement group is in contact with a former SeaWorld pinniped trainer who claims he can train the sea lions to poop elsewhere in just 90 days, at a cost of $30,000.

The presence of humans on the bluffs “may be very good for getting rid of the birds … (but) there’s got to be some additional action with regard to the sea lions to change their behavior,” he said. “The smell’s still there and the sea lions are still there. The city needs to retain or appoint from their staff a marine mammal supervisor to make a determination as to what else needs to be done to discourage the sea lions from being on the rocks.”

Dibella said the primary goal of the suit is to ensure the city takes action to eradicate the stench “in a timely manner.”

Though he also views the gate as a good first step to solving the problem, Dibella said he was disappointed that the city installed it without first notifying merchants and residents.

“They city says they’re communicating with local merchants, but they’re not,” he said, adding that if residents in his East County community were overrun by coyotes, the problem would be swiftly addressed by animal control.

Several meeting attendees told

La Jolla Light

that a lock was placed on the gate the morning of the meeting, though it was later cut, reportedly by an employee of a local business owner.

Jill Esterbrooks, a spokesperson for the office of District 1 City Council representative Sherri Lightner, said city workers changed the apparatus on the gate so that a lock cannot be placed on it in the future.

Esterbrooks said the lock was not placed on the gate by the city, and that “there’s no intention for there to be a lock on there ever.

“If the lifeguards for some reason down the line need to close that gate, they will use some sort of a chain to secure it,” she said.

La Jolla beach access proponent Melinda Merryweather, who attended the meeting at La Valencia, said she is pleased that the gate is now in place — something she has advocated for several years — though she believes installing ocean-water spraying sprinklers on the bluffs should also be employed as a seal lion deterrent (one of several legal remedies available under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act).

Ken Hunrichs, president of the pro-beach access group Friends of the Children's Pool, attended the meeting and joined the nuisance abatement group. Hunrichs said he supports “the objective to clean up La Jolla through better wildlife management along the entire coast, and not just at the Cove.”

“This lawsuit may have too narrow a focus, but it is a start to reestablishing common sense to the whole situation of pinnipeds in La Jolla,” he said.



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