City closes La Jolla Children’s Pool days after announcing it would remain open during seals pupping season

On Dec. 13 the City said it would keep Children’s Pool open during harobor seal pupping season (Dec. 15 to May 15 annually) to be in compliance with an Orange County Superior Court ruling that the closure violates citizen’s rights to coastal access and is therefore unlawful. However, on Dec. 16, the City announced that a Court of Appeals would allow the City to legally close the beach at Children’s Pool while the appeal process is pending. The beach officially closed to the public on Dec. 16.

The closure first went into effect in 2014. Since then, the City has closed the beach annually from Dec. 15 to May 15 during harbor seal pupping season, by way of a chain link fence across the stairs that lead to the sand. The decision to close the pool was approved by City Council on March 18, 2014, and by the California Coastal Commission soon after.

In May of this year, a ruling by Orange County Superior Judge Frederick Horn in La Jolla-based “Friends of Children’s Pool vs. City of San Diego and California Coastal Commissions” dated May 3, 2016 indicates: “The City’s actions to close the Children’s Pool beach was unlawful. Further, the City and the California Coastal Commission are prohibited from enforcing the Local Coastal Program amendment and the Coastal Development Permit issued by the California Coastal Commission and City ordinance for the seasonal closure of Children’s Pool.”

A statement from San Diego public information officials indicates the City has appealed the Orange County Superior Court judgment granting a request for a writ of mandate (a court order to a government agency to follow the law by correcting its prior actions or ceasing illegal acts) to compel the City to set aside the beach closure ordinance and related California Coastal Commission approvals. 

The judgment granting a writ automatically stays the City’s decision to close the beach unless the Court of Appeal orders otherwise. The City filed a motion in the Court of Appeal seeking to lift the automatic stay so that the beach closure ordinance can be implemented during the pupping season while the appeal process is ongoing, which was approved, leading to the closure. 

The animal rights group The Seal Conservancy called the five-month annual closure “an elegant compromise” that “brought peace and stability to the beach for the seals.” Of the continued closure amid some political back-and-forth, spokesperson Adrian Kwiatkowski told La Jolla Light, “We are happy that the Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay to allow the beach to be closed ... while this case is being decided at the appellate level.”

The beach access advocacy group Friends of Children’s Pool, which sued the City of San Diego and California Coastal Commission to keep the beach open, is appealing the decision. “Protecting the public’s coastal access is something we take very seriously. Citizens in California have a right to access … man-made beaches dedicated for public recreation, like Children’s Pool,” said Friends of Children’s Pool treasurer John Leek. “We are confident our case is still very strong and we will be vindicated again in the appeal.”

The Children’s Pool was created when La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps funded the construction of the sea wall that surrounds the beach. She gifted the wall and the beach it subsequently created to the City in 1931. 

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