Sea Lions Shut-Out: City to proceed with gate installation on La Jolla Cove stairs

The City of San Diego is moving forward with plans to install three-foot-tall pedestrian gates at the bottom of the stairs at La Jolla Cove to keep the sea lions found there from making their way up to Scripps Park and surrounding sidewalks.

The gates would be designed so they remain open but could be closed in the event of a large sea lion haul-out event. While the gates may be closed, San Diego Parks & Recreation director Herman Parker told the La Jolla Town Council, July 13 that they would not be locked.

“The gates that are proposed are gates that latch open and will remain open,” Parker said. “The goal is not to deny anyone access to the beach. Ninety-eight percent of the time, the gates would be latched open. If the gates swing closed, you can push the gate from the top of the stairs or pull the gate from the beach. But they would prevent the sea lions from coming up.”

He said no installation timeline is available.

The gates were first suggested in 2015 by the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group and echoed in the City-contracted Marine Coastal Management Plan authored by marine mammal expert Doyle Hanan of Hanan & Associates, which was released earlier this year.

The Marine Coastal Management Plan was written to evaluate the marine mammal situation across La Jolla’s beaches, and to draft solutions to the problems identified therein.

One observation at La Jolla Cove, according to the report, is, “California Sea Lions (CSL) have started to come up the stairways, mainly at night, when numbers of CSL ashore are at the highest level; they are coming into the park and onto the sidewalks even out along Coast Boulevard. There is increased possibility of interactions with cars on Coast Boulevard and increased possibility of interactions with people and dogs in the park.

“These interactions are not only potential physical interactions (hit by car, fighting and biting people and dogs) but potential passage of disease from dogs to CSL or CSL to dogs.

“We have also observed sea lions preventing swimmers from entering or exiting the water and from going up or down the cement stairs.”

To address this point, several options were presented, and Option 2 reads:

“To protect CSL from getting onto Coast Boulevard and encountering cars, to protect CSL from interacting with people and dogs in the park area, and to protect people from CSL, install gates and latches at the base of each cement stairway to/from the La Jolla Cove beach and at Point La Jolla stairway below the Bridge (Club).”

Identified potential drawbacks include a possible California Coastal Commission (CCC) permit; the possibility of leaving the gate open during the night, allowing CSL access up the stairs; and that the gates would require maintenance to ensure functionality.

However, before the gates could be installed, the Coastal Commission appealed the decision and put the installation on pause.

Parker said the City thought it would be exempt from a Coastal Commission permit, and proceeded accordingly. But Coastal Commission reports state the City’s Development Services Department determined that the project was exempt from coastal permit requirements under San Diego Municipal Code Section 126.0704(b) and (f), which address repair and maintenance of existing structures and public nuisance abatement, respectively.

The CCC appealed the decision, citing that the project was not exempt.

“The City’s decision is based on a claim that construction of the gates is exempt from coastal development permitting requirements because the gates are repair and maintenance, and are necessary to abate a public nuisance.

“However, the two proposed new pedestrian gates constitute ‘development’ as defined in Local Coastal Program Section 113.0103, and do not qualify for exemptions from the permit requirement described in Section 126.0704(b) and (f) regarding repair and maintenance and public nuisance abatement,” a Coastal Commission report reads.

“The gates do not qualify as repair and maintenance because they are not repairing any existing damage to the public access stairs, nor are they restoring any previously existing form or function of the stairs. The gates likewise do not constitute nuisance abatement because the City has not submitted sufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of a public nuisance or that these gates are the minimum actions necessary, both in kind and scale, to address the purported nuisance.”

As such, the City rescinded its proposal under the guise that it is exempt. Parker said the City would work with the CCC to get the gates installed. He promised to share information, including scheduling, as soon as the details are available.

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