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Point La Jolla bluffs reopen after temporary closure to keep people and sea lions apart

The stairway leading to the bluffs at Point La Jolla was open as of Sept. 16.
The stairway leading to the bluffs at Point La Jolla was open as of Sept. 16.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The ‘closed’ signs and plastic barrier have been removed, but signs remain urging visitors to keep their distance from sea lions and cautioning that wild animals can bite.

Just as signs were quietly installed in the predawn hours in August to start the temporary closure of Point La Jolla, they were quietly taken down before 5 a.m. Sept. 16 to end it.

The “Area closed” signs and plastic barrier have been removed, but signs remained emphasizing that people should keep their distance from sea lions and that wild animals can bite.

Following the city of San Diego’s five-week closure of the bluffs, implemented as an emergency measure to keep people away from sea lions, public access is again permitted on Point La Jolla, a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach where sea lions often go on land to rest. It also is a sea lion birthing area where the annual pupping season is recognized from June 1 to Oct. 31.

The city Parks & Recreation Department orchestrated the closure Aug. 11 after months of reports of beach-goers bothering, and in a few cases harming, sea lions and their pups. Officials said visitors also could be at risk of being bitten by sea lions if the animals feel threatened.

‘Really happy with the closure’

To the Sierra Club Seal Society docents who frequent the area to offer tours and advise visitors against getting close to the marine mammals, the closure was a success.

Sierra Club Seal Society docent Carol Toye speaks to visitors at Point La Jolla.
Sierra Club Seal Society docent Carol Toye speaks to visitors about keeping a distance from the sea lions on the bluffs at Point La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Docent Carol Toye, who was onsite the morning the closure was lifted, said: “The time the area was closed was amazing. The sea lions were much calmer, the pups were able to nurse and they were able to take up the whole area in a way they couldn’t before. It’s been really encouraging. We’re really happy with the closure. We think that’s the way to go.”

Though discussions are underway about future closures during pupping season, Toye said now that the area is open, there needs to be ranger presence. During the closure, at least one ranger was stationed in the area for enforcement.

Visitors to Point La Jolla view the sea lions from behind the short wall separating the sidewalk from the bluffs.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“We feel that, going from completely closed with rangers … to completely open and having people rely on signage is not ideal,” Toye said. “That’s the only thing we would like is for the city to put in a management plan with a ranger and for the stairs to be closed at night. Sometimes people go down there at night … so there should be a closure of the stairs at night to protect people.”

She said the Seal Society wants to continue to work with local government agencies to find a “practical” solution.

“We’re very much trying to have a reasonable approach,” Toye said. “We’re in contact with different people because we want to come up with the best solution. We don’t want to assume we know what that solution will be. We have our views on how long the closure should be, but we want to work with people.”

First day of reopening

The morning of Sept. 16, many of the people who were at Point La Jolla to see the sea lions did so from behind the short wall that separates the sidewalk from the bluffs.

Tiffany and Ailee Sykes, visiting from Kansas City, Mo., went to La Jolla to see the wildlife but opted to do it from a distance. “We wanted to stay back here and not disturb [the sea lions],” Tiffany said.

She said she was uncertain exactly where public access is allowed. Nevertheless, “I wouldn’t want to get closer, so sitting here is good,” she said.

“I think it’s really cool to see sea lions in an open, unenclosed environment,” Ailee added.

A sign cautions people to keep their distance from sea lions.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

But some opted to take advantage of the public access.

One pair walked along the bluffs and were quickly approached by Toye, who suggested they keep their distance from the sea lions.

Five weeks of closure

In June, the Seal Society and Sierra Club San Diego called on 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 the adjacent wall open.

Rather than pursue a closure, the city in early July posted signs at the entrance to Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach urging people to stay back from the sea lion birthing area and cautioning that sea lions can bite and that harassing them is against the law. Stenciling placed on trash cans, the sidewalk and the short wall reads “Do not approach mothers or pups” and “Do not approach sea lions.”

At the Aug. 5 La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting, City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said a “responsible tourism” public education campaign and the sign program were “not particularly effective” and that the city had decided to take “more assertive steps.”

He told the La Jolla Light that he was “impressed” with the Parks & Recreation Department’s solution to close the area by way of signs that “could be easily removed.”

The temporary closure was authorized through an emergency coastal development permit from the city Development Services Department. For any future closures, the city would follow a regular CDP process with the California Coastal Commission, LaCava told the Light.

When an emergency coastal development permit lapses, the procedure is to apply for a regular CDP and go through a more comprehensive process that includes more public input.

A timeline for applying for a permit for future closures is not yet set, though LaCava said the application “is expected in the near term.” ◆