Should City open Children’s Pool gates? La Jolla planners ask for plugged seawall holes be made functional


The decades-long conversation about whether to open the sluicegates (aka sluiceways) at Children’s Pool got a credibility boost Aug. 1, when the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), during its meeting at the Rec Center, voted to send a letter to the City asking that it explore opening the now-plugged holes in the seawall as a way to clean Children’s Pool.

LJCPA is recognized by the City to make recommendations to the City Council, Planning Commission, staff and other governmental agencies on La Jolla land-use matters.

La Jolla resident and beach-access advocate Melinda Merryweather drafted the letter for the LJCPA to sign and submit to the City. However, the board ultimately voted 8-5-2 to review and edit the letter before sending it. Merryweather argued the presence of harbor seals has created “the most disgusting mess” at Children’s Pool, and that by opening the sluicegates, water would flush the beach and remove any seal excrement from the sand.

LJCPA trustee Mike Costello quickly agreed, opining: “It’s time to open those gates. It’s a simple thing to do and it would solve a lot of problems. There is water pollution there and sand pollution there, so let’s just let Mother Nature take its course. I think we should do this.”

A motion was made to send the letter, but before a second could be called, some trustees spoke out against the idea questioning whether the sluicegates (as an opening-and-closing mechanism) exist.

Are the gates even there?

LJCPA trustee Diane Kane, with help from fellow trustee Matt Mangano, recently completed an extensive report on the Children’s Pool (created in 1931 with a donation from La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps), to nominate the landmark for designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

Based on her research, Kane said told the LJCPA: “We have no evidence there are gates there to open. There are openings in the wall that have been plugged with concrete, but there is not an opening mechanism. That is what you are facing. Opening these things is not a simple task. Plus you have seven feet of sand to move out of there.

“The sluicegates were opened for three days during testing before it was opened to the public, and the engineers said they wanted a beach and this would prevent that. So they closed the holes. There is no evidence they were ever used.”

According to “Until Kingdom Come: The Design and Construction of La Jolla’s Children’s Pool,” considered the authoritative document on the Children’s Pool by the San Diego Historical Society, the seawall was funded by Scripps because, as she is quoted: “I have always had an innate interest in children, particularly those handicapped in life’s game.” And while the creation of a breakwater would ultimately benefit all visitors to La Jolla’s beaches, “Scripps wanted the children to have a primary claim to such a structure.”

Scripps hired engineer Hiram Savage and architect William Templeton Johnson to carry it out.

The report document goes on to say Savage’s design includes “plans for four sluiceways, four feet wide by six feet high” and in 1930, workers “completed the four sluiceway holes and were ready to start building the grillages and gates for them.”

However, it continues that Savage “noticed that the sand level of the pool constantly fluctuated with the ebb and flow of the tide” and that “a strong suction pull caused by the water running into the sluiceways and then receding made it difficult for the pool to have an even sandbar. To remedy this problem, he decided to close the four wooden grillages. This prevented the sand in the pool from moving west through the sluiceways. On March 27, workers sealed the grillages.”

Within three days, a sand beach formed, which Savage saw as “beneficial for children bathing in the pool.”

The document added: “If it ever seemed desirable to reopen the gates, Savage proposed hand excavating the sluiceways at low tide and raising the frames and gates at low tide.”

Engineering issues

Trustee Mangano, who assisted in the report, elaborated: “In terms of opening and closing, I think this is an infrastructure project and there are implications to it. My first note is that it would be more than just punching a hole in the wall, there will probably be significant deterioration through the cold-joints and the concrete; we would also need to reinforce the wall to create some sort of walk to maintain public access.”

Further, he said part of the intent of having the Children’s Pool listed on the National Register of Historic Places is that any repairs or changes to the seawall would be in line with the Secretary of Interior Standards, rather than the City’s standards.

“A lot of the benefit to that is to keep it close to La Jolla and not let the City take control of what becomes of the wall,” Mangano explained.

“So when we beg the City to do a large infrastructure project on the wall itself — in the midst of trying to get it nationally designated for its historic prevalence — I would worry about that.

“It’s not as simple as a metal panel covered in concrete for which you could take out the concrete and it works as a gate. It would be an expensive, large project and the City would do it, but they would have terms through which they would do it.”

Could the City do it?

The City previously investigated opening the sluicegates and produced a report in the 1990s, prepared for the City’s Park & Recreation Department by Testing Engineers-San Diego. Its intent is to study the feasibility of opening the four sluicegates that were constructed in the seawall.

City spokesperson Tim Graham told the Light, as the result of this study the City determined: “Some time ago the sluiceways were filled with concrete. We don’t know when or why this happened, but we suspect it may have been done in an effort to keep sand on the beach.

“There was also concern that if the sluiceways were opened, it might undermine the integrity of the walkway structure and the report recommends that other measure be installed to prevent erosion of the natural material around the sluiceway.”

The report indicates: “The sluiceways can be opened by removing the concrete plugs that were placed on the ocean side of the breakwater (seawall). Debris will need to be cleared out of the remaining section of each sluiceways.”

In 1998, the cost estimate was $40,000 plus the cost of removal of sand.

All said, the board voted to send a revised letter to the City recommending it explore creating openings in the seawall. The revised letter will be presented at a future meeting.

La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.