Protesters warned for raking seaweed off Children’s Pool Beach in La Jolla

Senior Park Ranger Rich Beleksy (right) informs John Leek (left) that he is violating the Coastal Act by raking seaweed off Children's Pool Beach into the ocean on July 26, 2019.

On Friday, July 26, beach-access advocate John Leek and a man identifying himself as Dave Johnson removed seaweed laden with sand flies and seal feces from La Jolla’s Children’s Pool Beach, raking and wheelbarrowing it into the ocean.

The action seemed so altruistic and environmentally conscious, a tourist even briefly grabbed one of their rakes and joined in — until Senior Park Ranger Rich Belesky confronted the group.

“I have to inform you that you must have a Coastal Development Permit to remove wrack (seaweed) from Children’s Pool Beach,” Belesky shouted to Leek from the shoreline. “Since you don’t have one, you’re violating the Coastal Act.”

Leek did not acknowledge Belesky and continued removing seaweed.

“John, why are you doing that?” Belesky continued.

Leek announced his reasoning during the July 22 La Jolla Parks & Beaches (LJP&B) advisory group meeting at the Rec Center: “I would ask LJP&B to approve a cleanup … because the California Coastal Commission (CCC) made the request that the City find a way to clean the sand and water (as part of the harbor seal pupping season rope-and-closure system), but the City has not. I would like to do a similar cleanup to what Surfrider does: pick up trash, and in our case, rake stuff out of the sand.”

Leek claimed that City approval is not required to clean up the beach. However, past efforts to clean up Children’s Pool were squashed based on a 2013 letter from the CCC to the City, which explained that seaweed is an “important food source for shore birds. Thus, beach ‘grooming’ can have significant repercussions for the natural ecology of sandy beaches and may result in potential individual and cumulative adverse effects to coast processes.”

Belesky was hired by the City in 2011 precisely to keep an eye on protest activity like this, due to the battle between beach-access and animal-rights activists over Children’s Pool. He photographed Leek and Johnson and said he would file a report with the CCC law-enforcement staff, which would then decide to do about the violation.

“I can’t cite them,” Belesky told the Light. “It’s not a violation of City ordinances. They’re making a statement. They’re trying to say that this is our beach, we can do with it as we want. But there are regulations involved, there are procedures. The Coastal Commission didn’t come up with the determination that the removal of wrack requires a permit to be obstinate or unreasonable. It’s because they applied the law, and people like this disregard it.”

In the days leading up to Leek’s cleanup, the City reached out to LJP&B chair Ann Dynes restating the law. She then sent an e-mail to Leek and City reps stating: “It would be completely unacceptable to tarnish LJP&B’s excellent reputation for community service by having one of our members proceed in violation of CCC instructions, especially after other members, who supported you, accepted your contentions that your actions were going to be legal when they apparently are not.”

Although Dynes questioned whether the board was “aiding and abetting” Leek by giving its support to something that might be illegal, a motion to support Leek’s “personal mission” to complete the cleanup passed 14-3-1, with beach-access advocate Melinda Merryweather adding: “John is talking about picking up seal poop … and I think the City should be required to do that.”

Ashley Mackin-Solomon contributed to this report.