Parks and Beaches responds to Hanan report

Of the many La Jollans that have waited more than a year to see the report by marine mammal expert Doyle Hanan that addresses sea lions at La Jolla Cove, few were more relieved to see that it had been filed than the members La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group (LJP&B). But for some, the relief was short-lived, as they were dissatisfied with the information and recommendations in the report. The board tackled the study during its July 25 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center.

Ultimately deciding to form a sub-group to evaluate the deterrence methods listed in the report and choose one they determine would be the most effective, the board will discuss the topic and announce a recommendation at the Aug. 22 meeting.

Watching the sea lion population grow and migrate to the beach over the course of the last year and a half, the board attempted to take proactive action to deter sea lion presence in the form of letters, suggestions for preventative action and more, in early 2015. However, LJP&B was told the City would need to review the Hanan report before taking or approving any action.

As previously reported in the Light, the study was contracted in February 2015, and details one year of observation of California sea lions at nine La Jolla Cove locations (the bluffs, the sand, and other surrounding areas), recorded unique problems with human interaction and the infamous stench, before offering opinions on possible deterrent methods.

LJP&B chair Dan Allen noted, “The report mirrors some of our recommendations but does not concentrate on any particular action.”

The improved safety deterrence methods outlined in the $24,000 report include: further research; educational signage to alert visitors to keep their distance from the sea lions; additional city resources and/or docents, also to keep humans separated from the animals; moving and/or excluding the sea lions from certain areas via an ongoing program or selection of a firm to assist in the use of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-approved deterrence methods such as the installation of gates and latches at the base of each cement stairway to/from the La Jolla Cove beach and/or low voltage livestock fencing or other form of fencing.

The study goes on to conclude, in part: “With the California sea lion population increasing about 5-6 percent per year, it is likely that California sea lion presence and interactions at La Jolla Cove will increase proportionately … but they are not likely to abandon the area. Considering that California sea lions are not likely to leave the La Jolla area, the City is in the position to develop strategies of how to best live with them and hopefully take advantage of their presence.”

Disappointed, LJP&B member Ken Hunrich said, “I read the report, and every item that he recommended was readily available on the NOAA website under dispersal of nuisance animals, so to pay for information that was public knowledge was probably a waste of money. And he did not say, ‘Here is the one thing you should try to fix this problem’ but instead he gave a shopping list of different methods, which may or may not work.”

Added Ann Dynes, “When I read the report, it was a ‘where’s the beef’ feeling. I couldn’t believe it, but it didn’t have much substance, it told us what we already knew … we spent a lot of money to find out what we could have found on a website.”

Nevertheless, LJP&B member Debbie Beachum said she wanted to either try some of the deterrence methods or pick one and recommend the city carry it out. “Even if they fail, at least we know we tried. But to have someone say, this might not work and have us respond by not doing anything (accomplishes nothing) … we are the group the city listens to and we’ve been at this issue for quite some time.”

In addition to forming a sub-group, members expressed interest in working with the newly established La Jolla Town Council Task Force on sea lions, which formed in June following a community forum on the Hanan report.