City’s Coastal Management Plan for La Jolla marine mammals is in! City’s plan for La Jolla sea lions revealed

The long-awaited Marine Coastal Management Plan, intended to “provide guidance for the City to manage seals and sea lions and also various sea birds roosting and nesting in the La Jolla area,” has been completed and submitted to the City of San Diego’s Park & Recreation Department with measures that can be implemented.

Hanan & Associates authored the 91-page report, the same firm that produced the City-contracted “Hanan Report” of 2015-2016. It’s being referred to as a “living document” that can be revised as conditions change and it covers Scripps Pier to WindanSea Beach.

Among its findings, the report lists “Action Items” that could be taken to address the problems caused by the burgeoning pinniped populations along La Jolla’s coastline, which have included dangerous human-pinniped encounters, interference with lifeguard rescues, and an intolerable stench permeating the Village with onshore winds. The stench has so impacted commerce that a group of businessmen filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the City in December 2013 to force City Hall to deal with the issue.

In addition, La Jolla’s many community advisory boards have held meetings, formed a task force and proposed various sea lion deterrence solutions (such as power-washing the bluffs to remove animal excrement and rotating cylinders to keep the sea lions off the bluffs) but all were put on hold pending results of the Marine Coastal Management Plan.

The Plan states: “The City will continue to implement an aggressive educational safety program to develop public awareness regarding the biology and behavior of seals and sea lions and expected public behavior with seals and sea lions occurring in the La Jolla area. This program will include: increased and informative signage, brochures, education, interpretive centers and a trained docent program.”

Further, the report lists four items the City will do and a fifth the City can decide to do. It reads: “1) The City has decided to move forward to protect pinnipeds and the public by placing gates on the base of beach access stairs to prevent sea lions from coming up beyond the beaches and thus prevent problems associated with pinnipeds in urban areas; 2) The City will continue the enzyme spraying program to reduce waste build up and offensive odors; 3) The City will periodically review this plan and amend as necessary; 4) The City will continue to monitor pinniped presence and behavior at all sites within the plan area.”

The optional action is to “hire and equip additional rangers to increase City presence and education within the plan area.”

Local reactions

At the La Jolla Town Council meeting, May 11, District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry issued a statement that was read by her representative Mauricio Medina: “This report provides some initial steps to addressing a complicated situation that has impacted the community for years. I will be tracking the City’s implementation of (the Plan’s) action items. I remain committed to protecting coastal access for swimmers and beach-goers and enforcing the rules that prohibit human/sea lion interaction and advocating for effective management of the stench at the Cove ... The docent program is something (my office is) particularly excited about because we could provide an opportunity for youth education and volunteerism.”

Dan Allen, former chair of La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group, said he read the report and saw it as a good-news/bad-news situation. “The good news is that it looks to me like the report supports what La Jolla Parks & Beaches has been asking the City to do for the last two years,” he said. “Their expert consultant goes over potential actions and concludes with a two-part preferred alternative.”

Conversely, he said, “The final section of the Plan is the big disappointment. It appears to be the Mayor’s official response, specifically saying, ‘The City may consider at a later date procedures to move sea lions from certain beaches.’ In other words, expect them to continue to do nothing — not even the consultant’s recommended trial effort.”

Current La Jolla Parks & Beaches chair Ann Dynes said the report would be discussed at the next meeting, 4 p.m. Monday, May 22 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

La Jolla Town Council has been working to find a solution to the pinniped problem through its Sea Lion Task Force. Ahead of the May 11 Town Council meeting, president Ann Kerr Bache said in a statement to the press: “The City has so far chosen not to acknowledge the La Jolla Community input nor include representatives of the La Jolla Town Council Task Force in its discussion of how to proceed ... The next step is to move from study and discussion to action. The La Jolla community has offered to help. That offer remains valid should the City choose to accept it.”

Other Plan details

The 91-page Plan includes a description of each of the beach areas studied, a history of pinniped presence in La Jolla, pinniped and sea bird use by area, a species list for the entire area, a history of coastal protection measures, goals of the Management Plan (which emphasize “educating the public on living with and enjoying our wild resources”), examples of sea lion/seal interactions and subsequent municipality actions in other areas of California, management options, and citations.

The Plan also outlines alternatives the City may consider, which include doing nothing with the caveat that “this method would likely lead to loss of public beach areas as pinniped populations increase,” all the way to “low-voltage livestock fencing.” However the preferred alternative would be a combination, chiefly: “Implement expanded signage and docents to educate the public regarding pinnipeds and pinniped behavior (and) 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.”

While the previous Hanan & Associates study was to “identify potential opportunities for changing the behavior or haul-out conditions of the sea lion colony now expanding along the La Jolla coastline” it ultimately found “Continual harassment of California sea lions off haul-out areas may temporarily reduce California sea lion presence and may temporarily reduce their interactions in the La Jolla Cove area, 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.”

La Jolla Light will continue to update this unfolding news story of great import ance to the businesses and residents of The Village.