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La Jolla Town Council coastal forum airs concerns about sea lions, bluffs and Gliderport

La Jollan John Leek claims NOAA signs like this were not created by scientists.
La Jollan John Leek contends that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration signs warning of sea lion pup abandonment were not created by scientists. NOAA has not responded to the claim.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The March 11 meeting of the La Jolla Town Council included a forum reviewing several coastal issues pertinent to the area.

Sea lions

Sea lions have “invaded The Cove, polluting the water,” La Jollan John Leek said as he asked the Town Council to encourage the city of San Diego to review the program protecting sea lions that was implemented five years ago.

Following Town Council action in 2016, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department implemented a plan to address concerns about sea lions at La Jolla Cove. The plan included “docents and signs placed to warn the public away from these dangerous animals,” Leek said.

The plan also included regular deodorizing of the bluffs to help alleviate noxious odors, along with gates installed on stairs to keep sea lions on the beach.

A Marine Coastal Management Plan was released in 2017, intended to provide guidance for the city to manage seals and sea lions in the La Jolla area.

Sea lions were protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, but the optimal sustainable population of seals and sea lions — the number of animals that results in the maximum productivity of a species — was exceeded long ago, Leek said. “For 20 years we’ve been protecting them needlessly, according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act basis,” he said.

Signs provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warning beach-goers that mother sea lions may abandon their pups if provoked or disturbed by humans “came from the public relations department, not the scientists,” Leek said. “No female mammal is known to abandon its young and not look back.”

NOAA did not respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment.

Town Council President Ann Kerr Bache suggested that Leek reach out to the Sea Lion Task Force, a working group under the Town Council. “Maybe there’s some action that we can take with the new mayor,” she said. “Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”

Coastal bluff failures

Nicole Van Doren, superintendent of state parks for San Diego, spoke to the Town Council about two recent bluff collapses around Torrey Pines State Beach.

Van Doren, who also is chief ranger, said one the most recent collapses was Dec. 31 just south of Tower 1. The collapse was witnessed by park visitors, but no injuries were reported, she said.

Another collapse occurred Feb. 28 about a half-mile north of Tower 7. Van Doren called it “a very significant collapse, with a significantly large amount of material that fell down.”

A beach walker passes a section of bluff that collapsed in Del Mar on Feb. 28.
A beach walker passes a section of bluff that collapsed in Del Mar on Feb. 28.
(Bill Wechter)

The bluff is in Del Mar and is part of the easement for the North County Transit District, she said. “There’s a lot of agencies … impacted by this.”

The latest bluff collapse requires rail maintenance and “emergency bluff work,” Van Doren said, so coastal rail service will be suspended this weekend and “there may be limited or, at times, no beach access between Del Mar and Torrey Pines as a result of this work.”

Bluff collapses can happen at any time, “often without warning,” Van Doren said. “They are part of the natural coastal process. But unfortunately, and in spite of the signage that is there and the large debris pile — which does demonstrate the fact that these bluffs do slough off this material — … a number of people are recreating directly beneath the bluffs and within that debris pile.”

She urged people to “time your visit for low tide, then you can engage in your recreational activities as far as possible away from the bluffs without being in the ocean.”

The ocean will wash away the debris, she said, but “even though there is no debris anymore, that doesn’t mean the danger of that activity from the bluffs has gone away.”

Torrey Pines Gliderport

Bob Kaczynski asked the Town Council to create a subcommittee to review “accidents, bullying [and] lawlessness” that he said have been happening for years at the Torrey Pines Gliderport.

He said he would like the subcommittee to push for an advisory board to “oversee the Gliderport.”

The Gliderport is home to four types of gliders: hang gliders, paragliders, remote-control gliders and sail planes, said Kaczynski, an avid flier who said he was the first person to fly all four types in one day.

Kerr Bache said a subcommittee of three trustees has been created “to report back at the next meeting on the issues and if there’s anything the Town Council can help with or otherwise facilitate.” ◆