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Is Boomer Beach the next Children’s Pool? Beach access advocates worry that a closure is coming

People line the sidewalk above Boomer Beach in La Jolla to view the sea lions below.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

For La Jolla beach access advocates who watched the city of San Diego slowly take steps over the past 20 years to seasonally close the Children’s Pool, the situation evolving at Boomer Beach is providing unwanted déjà vu.

Both are pocket beaches that historically have been used by divers and swimmers. Both are now more known for the presence of pinnipeds: harbor seals at the Children’s Pool and sea lions at Boomer Beach.

The Children’s Pool beach is closed to the public during the annual harbor seal pupping season (recognized from December to May). Marine mammal advocates have promoted doing the same at Boomer Beach and Point La Jolla during sea lion pupping season (June through October). Though those efforts have been shut down thus far, some are concerned that something still might be coming down the pike.

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

To try to prevent Boomer Beach and Point La Jolla (a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach, where sea lions often go on land to rest) from having a seasonal closure, members of the diving community presented a letter to the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board during its July 26 meeting to send to the city outlining the importance of beach access for people.

“Boomer Beach is located on the southern end of Point La Jolla and is a unique area for bodysurfers,” the letter reads in part. “Part of the reason Boomer Beach was made a no flotation device zone was due to the quality of the waves at this unique beach. Accordingly, we request that the historic access to Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach be preserved for bodysurfers, fishermen, divers, swimmers and sunbathers.”

LJP&B member Ken Hunrichs said: “I’m having flashbacks to 15 to 20 years ago when we started arguing over Children’s Pool. The situation at Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach is shaping up to be the same arguments.

“We have the right to coastal access and the right to fish in our waters. We have known there has been a problem with overpopulation of pinnipeds … that have shifted from one side of The Cove to the other. La Jolla is a beach community. If you can’t get to the beaches anymore, why do we need it? We are following the same pattern of divisiveness we did 20 years ago.”

The board voted to send the letter to the city, with trustees Jane Reldan and Tim Seery dissenting without comment.

The discussion was prompted by a June 15 request from the Sierra Club Seal Society and Sierra Club San Diego, citing harassment of sea lions and their pups, for Mayor Todd Gloria to declare an emergency and temporarily close Point La Jolla to the public 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 at the time that “closure of Point La Jolla would require [California] Coastal Commission approval, and that is unlikely to be granted quickly. The mayor is open to exploring that option in the longer term if relevant stakeholders and regulatory agencies can reach consensus on a solution.” He said the city would focus on a signage program to inform visitors to keep their distance from the sea lions.

The city completed the signage installation in July by posting signs and stenciled messages on trash cans, sidewalks and the short wall that lines Point La Jolla. Some signs read “Stay back: Sea lion birthing area.” Others caution that sea lions can bite and that harassing them is against the law. The stenciling reads “Do not approach mothers or pups” and “Do not approach sea lions.”

New signs posted at Point La Jolla direct beach-goers to keep their distance from sea lions.
(Courtesy of Robyn Davidoff)

However, at the July 26 LJP&B meeting, Hunrichs said the “wall of signs” and Sierra Club docents who often are onsite act as a “psychological barrier” deterring people from accessing the beach.

“Whether it’s a physical barrier or psychological barrier, the barrier exists,” Hunrichs said. “We’re asking the city to try a different solution this time, because they failed at Children’s Pool.”

Volker Hoehne, a member of the San Diego Council of Divers, told the board that Point La Jolla has been a “historic site” for divers “since the beginning of the sport.” To those who use it, closing access to the public “would be like closing the Vatican,” he said.

Sierra Club San Diego chapter director Richard Miller noted that the California Coastal Act “requires people to have access to the beach. So if there is a closure, it will not be a permanent closure, it would have to be temporary.”

Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said no official action is planned to close the area in any capacity.

Unconvinced, LJP&B member Melinda Merryweather said: “This is exactly what happened at Children’s Pool. [People said] ‘Oh no, we don’t intend to close people off, that’s not what we’re intending to do.’ But that is exactly what they are intending to do.”

The next Children’s Pool?

Noting that the current seasonal closure of the Children’s Pool was years in the making, and piecemeal, some worry that Boomer Beach will become like it.

La Jolla's Children's Pool is closed to the public for five months annually, in accord with harbor seal pupping season.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“Most people who know the history of the Children’s Pool see that travesty being repeated ... at Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach,” Hunrichs told the Light. “There seems to be no limit on the number of nuisance animals the city will tolerate in an urban area.”

Citing harassment of harbor seals and their pups during pupping season, animal-rights groups started their quest to keep the pinnipeds and people apart in the early 2000s. A rope barrier was installed and taken down, and attempts to use the rope to keep people away from the animals while advocating shared use took almost a decade.

In 2010, the city approved a 130-foot rope to separate humans and harbor seals during pupping season. It would be installed early Dec. 15 and come down May 16.

In 2012, the rope was extended to 152 feet, leaving a 3-foot opening for divers and spear fishermen. That same year, the city approved a permit to install and maintain the rope barrier year-round.

The decision to close the Children’s Pool entirely during the pupping season was approved by the City Council on March 18, 2014, and by the state Coastal Commission soon after.

Currently, the beach is closed annually from Dec. 15 to May 15 by way of a chain barrier across the middle-level stairs. A rope barrier intended to be a visual deterrent to keep humans away from harbor seals is in place the rest of the year. ◆