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New San Diego budget includes two new park rangers; city says presence in La Jolla is likely

Beach-goers and sea lions gather at Point La Jolla, where there may be increased park ranger presence in coming months.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

When San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria signed the city’s fiscal-year 2022 budget June 21, it came with funding for two more park rangers and a chief ranger that the city said will likely mean an increased presence in La Jolla.

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, petitioned for the new rangers during the budget planning and review stages this year. In recent weeks he emphasized their importance in helping to keep people away from sea lions in areas of La Jolla that are populated by beach-goers in summer and sea lions during pupping season, which runs from June through October.

“These rangers will serve as educational assets to visitors as much as a regulatory authority to the site,” LaCava said after the budget was finalized with funding for the rangers. “Park rangers are essential in maintaining our city’s natural recreational resources and ensuring they continue to exist and thrive for all to enjoy. Between District 1’s shoreline parks and vast amount of open-space land, these rangers will help provide valuable, much-needed oversight, helping manage and maintain these environmental treasures.”

Parks & Recreation Department spokesman Tim Graham said the new positions are expected to be filled in coming months.

“At that time, the chief ranger will make a systemwide assessment of our shoreline and developed regional parks ranger staff to best determine how to deploy them across the city,” Graham said. “While that assessment has yet to be finalized, it is safe to say you can expect to see an increased presence of ranger staff at Point La Jolla and La Jolla Cove.”

Point La Jolla is a rocky area between The Cove beach and Boomer Beach, where sea lions often go on land to rest.

Much of La Jolla’s parkland is considered shoreline parks. The responsibilities of a shoreline park ranger include “resource protection, management and interpretation of the natural and cultural resources of San Diego’s more than 13 miles of coastline and parks,” according to the city.

However, the duties of the rangers that may be stationed in La Jolla will “depend on the number of staff as it relates to the size and traffic in the park,” Graham said. There are more than 42,000 acres of park assets in San Diego, including almost 27,000 acres of open space and aquatic areas.

The chief ranger will oversee park ranger activities and ensure consistency of training for the ranger program.

LaCava said he would work closely with Parks & Recreation to increase “trained supervision” in the area.

In May, LaCava held a budget town hall forum to collect feedback on what programs and departments he should prioritize in his requests for funding. Requests for rangers, maintenance of existing facilities and capital improvement projects in shoreline parks were dominant issues.

At the time, Sierra Club Seal Society docent Robyn Davidoff asked that a Parks & Recreation staff member and/or a ranger be stationed full time at Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach “to keep people a safe distance from the wildlife,” chiefly the sea lions at La Jolla Cove.

“These sea lions are a huge tourist attraction for La Jolla and bring a lot of revenue to the city … and this area needs to be managed better,” she said. “Currently, park rangers are staffed there on an overtime basis as part of a trial run on weekends only. This has proved successful in keeping people and sea lions at a safe distance.”

Davidoff said she’s happy about the new park rangers, though “we have not received any confirmation that a ranger will be staffed full time at the Point La Jolla/Boomers sea lion rookery as we have been requesting. But [we] are hopeful Mr. LaCava and Parks & Rec Director Andy Field will agree to it quickly.”

The use of rangers also is seen as an alternative to closing Point La Jolla to the public to keep people and pinnipeds apart.

Sierra Club groups called for an emergency declaration, citing people’s harassment of the animals.

On June 15, amid reports of people harassing the sea lions and endangering their pups, the Sierra Club Seal Society and Sierra Club San Diego called on Gloria to declare an emergency and temporarily close the site during sea lion pupping season while keeping the viewing area from an adjacent wall open.

David Rolland, senior advisor of communications in Gloria’s office, told the La Jolla Light that the mayor, rather than pursue the closure, is for now “committed to already-announced education measures such as new stencils and signs … and increasing existing park ranger hours and other enforcement agency presence at Point La Jolla.”

But Davidoff said the Seal Society is concerned about how long it will take to get the new rangers hired and trained. “We encourage [LaCava and Field] to find an immediate and temporary solution until these positions can be hired, such as temporary closure of the area or hiring a security guard.”

Between a request to close Point La Jolla to help keep humans and sea lions apart and attempts to stop the Fourth of July fireworks display over La Jolla, local animal-rights groups have been sounding an alarm about harm that can come from people’s encounters with pinnipeds.

On June 25, animal-rights group PETA said it would push the mayor’s office to scrap a Fourth of July fireworks display set for La Jolla Cove.

A lawsuit filed recently on behalf of the Animal Protection and Rescue League seeks to stop the fireworks show, citing potential harm to local marine life, especially sea lions.

However, Deborah Marengo, director of the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, said organizers are proceeding with the display. ◆