'We feel slighted': La Jolla Town Council says it's 'unheard' in City decisions on sea lion issue

The La Jolla Town Council held its fourth “Crisis at The Cove” hearing during its July 13 meeting at the La Jolla Rec Center. At issue was whose recommendations the City should follow when taking action to deter the sea lion congregation at La Jolla Cove, which has led to dangerous human-sea lion interactions, health department-ordered beach closures, and a pervasive noxious odor that has been detrimental to business and tourism, and caused by the marine mammals’ effusions.

About 25 people were in attendance, including San Diego Department of Park & Recreation director Herman Parker.

Thus far, the City has installed informational signage at The Cove, and plans to install gates at the base of the stairs to prevent sea lions from climbing to the nearby Scripps Park. Several dissatisfied La Jollans and Cove users at the hearing questioned why the City took that route, considering a list of alternatives was provided via the La Jolla Town Council Sea Lion Task Force (made up of representatives from different community groups across La Jolla and San Diego) and the Marine Coastal Management Plan, authored by Hanan & Associates.

“The Mayor has never contacted our Task Force nor our committees about the problem, and we feel we have a lot of local insight to offer,” said La Jolla Town Council president Ann Kerr Bache. “We’ve offered money, volunteers, ideas and brains, representing hundreds of years of recreational use. So all these decisions are being made without regard for any of the intelligent information that is being provided at no cost.”

Further, the Task Force drafted a “Call to Action” petition asking for community support to “have prompt and effective action taken to move and exclude California Sea Lions from areas where their presence creates severe public health and safety problems.” By installing signs and gates, some suggested the City is attempting to move and exclude humans rather than sea lions.

Swimmer Doug Burleigh opined that the sign approach is “just going to cause people to back up further and further away from the beach. As a result, more sea lions will come onto the beach because there is more room for them.”

The petition was sent to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office in November 2016, and the Task Force has yet to receive a reply.

La Jolla Cove Swim Club president Dan Simonelli said of all this, “We feel slighted. There has been no response from the Mayor’s office … and seemingly no interest in solving this problem beyond installing signs. The situation continues to be a problem and it is frustrating for those who live here and use The Cove. It’s silly and ridiculous. I’m not sure why Mayor Faulconer is ignoring the problem.”

In addition to the ideas the Task Force has submitted, the committee stated it is in agreement with the “preferred alternative” identified in the Marine Coastal Management Plan. The Plan lists several sea lion deterrence methods ranging from “no action” to “livestock fencing.”

However, the “preferred alternative” is a combination, which reads: “Implement expanded signage and docents to educate the public regarding pinnipeds and pinniped behavior; Use the National Marine Fisheries Service approved harassment techniques to try and keep sea lions off La Jolla Cove beach and any other selected haul-out areas. First test and then if this appears to work, use the technique at other sites chosen for public use.”

In an impassioned speech, Kerr Bache asked Parker why the City was not following the recommendation of the report or the local community. She said, “We’ve heard the complaint that it is difficult to deal with La Jolla because we have different organizations and speak with different voices. … But we pulled everyone together from different groups, we have one voice … The City has no excuse for why it is not listening to its citizens. We are not going to stop this effort and we are not going to give up.”

She added, “Tell the Mayor to answer his constituents. He only has a little bit of time left in office, this is his chance to leave a legacy, to be a national leader and actually do something about a real problem. It’s an insult to the citizens to not pay attention to them. Who are you listening to? You aren’t listening to us and not listening to the Hanan Report.”

Responding, Parker said the City has “gone through a long process involving the Hanan Report … and I have to say it is data the City needed. With that information, the City is determining our best approach. Right now, we are trying to implement an education process to keep people safe. We’ve implemented signage to educate people about sea lion behaviors and are looking at installing gates. … This is a first step.”

As to a timeline to any future steps, Parker said such information was not available. In the meantime, Parker said the La Jolla community is “well organized” and encouraged concerned citizens to “keep sending the message” that they are not pleased with the situation and the City’s progress.

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