The California Coastal Commission (CCC) has given the City of San Diego its stamp of approval to install gates on the stairs at La Jolla Cove to prevent sea lions from climbing the stairs and impeding safety access.
The gates have already been built to the tune of $7,000, said Tim Graham, San Diego public information officer, but the City must acquire additional permits before they are installed, and a timeline has not been established.
In a report released Dec. 13, the CCC states: “The City of San Diego’s proposed gates are in response to numerous incursions by resident California sea lions in La Jolla Cove into the public viewing deck and area around the lifeguard station overlooking the popular pocket beach. The City has indicated that sea lions periodically ascend the two public access stairways during the day and become aggressive due to the large number of visitors on the deck, and when they spend the night on the deck they defecate around the area, causing a health hazard for visitors and the lifeguards.
“The gates proposed by the City are approximately three feet in height and utilize a vertical bar design, which the City has indicated is the minimum size and bulk that will prevent the sea lions from ascending the stairs.”
The CCC approved the installation with five conditions:
1) The City adheres to final construction plans;
2) The City implements a signage plan;
3) During daytime hours, the two gates be secured in a fully opened position, only allowed to be closed (but remain unlocked), during the nighttime hours;
4) The City monitors both the effectiveness of the gates in deterring sea lion incursions into the public viewing deck, and any identified impacts to public access.
5) The City establishes a five-year permit term for the gates to allow the Commission to re-assess effectiveness and need of the gates.
The signage plan, the report continues, lists three requirements:
1) Each gate shall have a sign measuring at least 12 inches wide and 18 inches tall on its landward side stating “Beach Open At All Times” in a large, easily readable font.
2) Each entrance to the public viewing deck above the La Jolla Cove beach area shall have a sign measuring at least 12 inches wide and 18 inches tall stating “Beach Open At All Times” in a large, easily readable font.
3) Existing informational and educational signage in the vicinity of The Cove shall have language added informing the public that the gates are intended only for preventing sea lion access to the public deck.
The report goes on to recommend the gates not be lockable. “Ideally, any required gates would be designed without a latching mechanism to ensure locks could not be added,” it reads.
The gates were suggested by the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group in 2015 and echoed in the 2016 City-contracted Marine Coastal Management Plan, authored by marine mammal expert Doyle Hanan, of Hanan & Associates.
In July, the City attempted to install the gates without a CCC permit, on the premise that it would be exempt.
At the time, the City’s Development Services Department assumed the project would fall under a portion of the Municipal Code that addresses repair and maintenance of existing structures and public nuisance abatement. The CCC determined the project was not exempt, and the City rescinded its proposal.
Some have questioned whether the gates will be an effective deterrent, given that sea lions have been observed climbing rocks, but the report addresses the benefit to the lifeguards who use the stairs to complete rescues.
It states: “The City lifeguards and park ranger have reported increasing incidents of sea lions ascending the concrete stairs up to the viewing platform. When occurring during the day time with large numbers of visitors, the City has stated the incursions have led to occasional incidents of aggressive sea lion behavior between the animals and the public on the viewing deck.”