Coastal Commission to hear La Jolla's Children’s Pool rope/closure extension

A groundswell of activism is already forming ahead of a June California Coastal Commission (CCC) meeting that could determine the fate of access to La Jolla’s Children’s Pool for the next decade.

Notices have been posted at Children’s Pool indicating the CCC would hear a proposed amendment to the permit that would allow the “installation of a guideline rope, including support posts, foundations, informational signs a three-foot opening to provide beach and ocean access and to create a buffer between humans and harbor seals that haul out on the La Jolla Children’s Pool beach through Aug. 14, 2029.”

Another notice posted indicates the CCC would hear an amendment that would allow for the “closure of Children’s Pool beach to all public access during harbor seal pupping season (Dec. 15 to May 15) through Aug. 14, 2029.”

The next CCC meeting in San Diego is June 12-14 at a location to be determined. The date at which the Children’s Pool permits will be heard has not be scheduled. In the meantime, beach access advocate Ken Hunrichs has been making the rounds to community groups to garner attendance at the June CCC meeting. He spoke at the La Jolla Community Planning Association Feb. 7, and will do so again, and plans to speak at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting Feb. 25, to ask both groups to formally object to the permit extensions.

The beach is currently closed Dec. 15 to May 15 annually by way of a chain barrier across the middle level stairs, and a rope barrier intended to be a visual deterrent to keep humans away from harbor seals is in place the rest of the year. But getting to this point was almost 10 years in the making.

In 2010, a 130-foot rope was approved by the City of San Diego to separate humans and harbor seals during the annual pupping season; in 2012, it was extended to 152 feet, leaving a three-foot opening for divers and spear-fishermen. It would be installed in the early morning hours of Dec. 15 and come down May 16.

In 2012, the City approved a permit to install and maintain the rope barrier year-round.

The decision to close Children’s Pool entirely was approved by the San Diego City Council in 2014, and by CCC soon after.

In 2015, CCC voted to extend the permit for the rope by four years. To avoid redundancy and public confusion, CCC required the rope come down when the beach is closed.

The rope barrier and beach closure would be heard at the June CCC hearing as one package.

“We object to both the beach closure and the rope permit extension,” said Hunrich, referencing Friends of Children’s Pool. “Children’s Pool was built for a reason and it is not for seals. For five months out of the year (pupping season), we put people and beach access second to seals. If you go during the summer when there are no seals, people have to climb over and under the rope. The rope for me is a big problem.”

He added when the rope permit was approved, the CCC asked the City to monitor and improve the water and sand quality at Children’s Pool, and improve ADA-access to the beach by way of a ramp.

“They needed to ‘study’ and ‘investigate,’ which almost lets them off the hook from doing something. But there has been no improvement, the water quality is regularly below state standards and access for disabled people hasn’t changed,” Hunrich said. “My feeling is that the City has had five years to do something about those issues and hasn’t. The City seems to have their backs against the wall and really seems to want to keep it closed.”

According the San Diego County Beach & Bay water quality program, Children’s Pool “is sampled year round. Both historical and recent sampling confirms that water quality does not typically meet State health standards at this beach. As a result, a chronic (ongoing) advisory remains in place for this beach.”

To address ADA-access, when the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower was reconstructed in 2016, an ADA-accessible ramp was installed to the restroom facilities, but not to the beach itself.

The Seal Conservancy of San Diego (formerly Friends of La Jolla Seals), who have historically supported the year-round rope and beach closure, said, they will continue to support these polices.

Speaking for the Seal Conservancy, representative Adrian Kwiatkowski told La Jolla Light: “We consider the (rope and seasonal closure) as an elegant compromise that allows beach and ocean access for seven months of the year, and then for five months out the year — the winter months — the beach is closed for harbor seal pupping season. People can access the seawall, to the viewing area under the lifeguard tower, to view the seals and the beach.”

He added that since these policies were put in place, there has been “peace” and “an almost elimination” of interaction between humans and harbor seals.

“The (plan) accomplishes multiple goals on all sides and protects this unique harbor seal colony — the only harbor seal colony on the California mainland, south of Ventura County, where harbor seals come to the beach to haul out, rest and during the winter, have their offspring. It is an attraction in the community, (enabling) locals and tourists to see these seals their natural environment.”

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

“I would hope at some point, common sense will return and this beach will be returned to the people,” Hunrichs opined. “Coastal access is being denied for half the year. It’s leading to a bigger problem down the road where we could lose access to more and more of La Jolla’s coastline.”

But, he acknowledges: “it’s going to be difficult to change the direction of this ship,” and he doubts the permits will be overturned.

The CCC hearing will likely next be discussed at the next La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting, 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

An agenda for the June CCC meetings will be posted as the date gets closer at coastal.ca.gov

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