'No Selfies with Seals': La Jolla Parks & Beaches hears of more pinnipend signs posted

Leading up to the installation last week of a prominent new sign at La Jolla Cove that provides facts and issues warnings about seals and sea lions, new signs were also posted at South Casa Beach (next to Children’s Pool) to advise visitors about appropriate ways for humans to interact with marine mammals.

The South Casa Beach signage went up — with one set of signs at the top of the stairs that lead to the beach, and another set of the same signs about half way down the stairs — in early March. The Cove sign went up March 24.

A discussion about the signs was held during the public comment period of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group meeting on March 27.

Diver John Leek brought the signs to the board’s attention and opined that they may guilt beach-goers from entering the beach to avoid getting near the seals resting there. There is an area where harbor seals haul out and give birth a few feet away at Children’s Pool, but because seals reportedly prefer space, some have begun also hauling out at South Casa Beach.

Leek said with messages such as, “Mother seals may abandon their pups (if you get too close),” this implies that “any decent person would stay off the beach, so you are threatened and cajoled,” he said.

Leek noted the signs are in three languages, and bear the emblem of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but not the City of San Diego.

LJP&B member Jane Reldan explained to him that, “There is a federal program by NOAA to discourage people from taking ‘selfies’ with seals up and down the coast, and this is part of their outreach. The crowding and photos with the animals is not in the public’s best interest. I don’t understand what the objection is to these signs.”

Reldan added, “I think the signs were put up by NOAA in response to the number of complaints that have emanated from the activity down there.”

NOAA stranding coordinator Justin Viezbicke, who was not at the meeting, later verified to La Jolla Light that NOAA has received videos and other documentation from concerned citizens that people at South Casa Beach are getting too close to the seals there.

“We’re trying to change that behavior and make it known that is it not OK to touch seals,” Viezbicke said. “This is the first time we’ve posted those signs there, and we’ve found (signage) is one of the effective tools we have to educate people.”

He added that the signage there has been posted in different versions. First, they were printed out and laminated; then the City of San Diego worked with NOAA to post the more “permanent” signs, which currently stand.

“We’re going to see how effective it is … and then we’re going to talk to the City about the possibility of more signs to educate people before they get onto the beach. We are also working on getting education tables filled with animals skulls and pelts, so visitors can have that textile experience and educate themselves in a way that is better for the animals.”

In other LJP&B news:

Donations policy revised: One of LJP&B’s roles is to raise funds for capital projects, some of which are taken over by the City (such as the Children’s Pool Walk beautification project) or have funds leftover once completed. Following one request for a donation refund, the board decided to revise its donation policy.

Member Mary Ellen Morgan explained, “We had a discussion that all donations should be non-refundable. My argument was, if we are going to ask people for money for a specific project, it’s not ethical of us to move it to another project if for some reason we don’t use it, without the consent of the donor.”

LJP&B treasurer Sally Miller said, “Nearly all the donations we get are for specific projects. We have only received two donations to the general fund.”

The new policy was largely agreed upon, save for one section that addresses refunds, which was presented for full review and vote at the March meeting. It reads: “Except as hereafter provided, all donations to LJP&B are non-refundable. In cases where an approved project acquires replacement funds or the project is abandoned, and there are unexpended donations of $1000 or more which have been designated by the donor(s) to support that project, the chair of the working group for that project shall contact those donor(s) with a request that the donations will be reallocated to a replacement project or the LJP&B general fund. In the event a donor requests a refund, the chair shall calculate project expenses previously debited from such donation and pro-rate the balance to the donor.”

Noting the City Attorney would need to review the policy and approve it, the board voted to add the new verbiage to the board’s larger donation policy.

New Coast Boulevard stairs: Maurico Medina, representing City Council member Barbara Bry, reported that the project to reinstate the staircase at 100 Coast Blvd. is about to begin. “I spoke with the project manager and the start date for construction is the week of April 17 — they don’t have a specific start date — and they expect, weather permitting, to be done with construction 6-8 weeks thereafter,” he said.

At the end of 2015, a strong storm obliterated the staircase that leads to a beach area known as The Horseshoe near 100 Coast Blvd., and the access was fenced off. After being declared an emergency in July 2016, the City attempted to collaborate with a nearby homeowners association to get the stairs put in place, but discovered a cavity in the seawall at the base of the stairs, which posed a problem.

Rather than wait for the seawall cavity to be repaired, Medina said, “The City is building a foundation for the stairs that is not against the sea wall, it’s detachable, so we can move forward.”

La Jolla Parks and Beaches next meets 4 p.m. Monday, April 24 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollaparksandbeaches.com

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