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Community planners seek environmental impact report on a future Point La Jolla closure

Signs warning people to keep their distance from sea lions remain at Point La Jolla.
Signs warning people to keep their distance from sea lions remain at Point La Jolla after a temporary closure of the area earlier this year.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

LJCPA also signs on to a letter asking the city of San Diego to preserve access to adjacent Boomer Beach.

A debate that has been hashed out at La Jolla Parks & Beaches meetings in recent months made its way to the La Jolla Community Planning Association on Oct. 7. The question is how to proceed with planned future closures of Point La Jolla.

The LJCPA board ultimately voted to ask the city of San Diego to preserve access to adjacent Boomer Beach and decided to ask the California Coastal Commission to require an environmental impact report on any future closure.

Point La Jolla, a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach where sea lions often go on land to rest, was closed on an emergency basis for five weeks in late summer to keep people away from the sea lions. Point La Jolla also is a sea lion birthing area where the annual pupping season is recognized from June 1 to Oct. 31.

Ahead of the reopening Sept. 16, City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, sent a notice to community leaders indicating the city would “follow up with a coastal development permit for [more closures in] subsequent pupping seasons.” However, he said there would be time and opportunities for public feedback.

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches group voted Sept. 27 to send a letter to the city asking that in any future closure of Point La Jolla, access to Boomer Beach (including a trailhead to the beach from the southern end of Point La Jolla) be preserved. Sea lions also haul out at Boomer Beach.

Expanding on that, LJCPA voted this week to sign on to the letter and submit it to the city, and to ask the Coastal Commission to require the city to complete an environmental report on a planned closure.

The debate

Ocean access advocates have objected since the emergency closure of Point La Jolla went into effect in August. Many drew parallels to the seasonal closure of the nearby Children’s Pool, which is closed annually from December to May during harbor seal pupping season.

However, animal-rights groups such as Sierra Club San Diego and the Sierra Club Seal Society have voiced their support for closures during pupping season, saying many people get too close to the animals. The city agreed with those concerns in closing Point La Jolla.

La Jolla resident Kurt Hoffman, a 40-year bodysurfer who presented the letter adopted by the community groups, said, “The city’s concerns about liability related to irresponsible tourism are understandable, but the environmental impacts of ongoing seasonal closures need to be studied with broad-ranging science and the involvement of all stakeholders.”

Hoffman has long advocated for keeping at least Boomer Beach open during any future closures. Boomer Beach is of particular importance to bodysurfers because flotation devices are not allowed.

A map of Point La Jolla submitted by Kurt Hoffman
A map of Point La Jolla submitted by local resident Kurt Hoffman shows a potential closure area (outlined in red) and an area that Hoffman believes should be excluded from closure (in green).
(Courtesy of Kurt Hoffman)

Volker Hoene, a representative of the Watermen’s Alliance in San Diego, said Point La Jolla “is the safest way to enter the water when spearfishing. We do not want to loiter there, we want to transit there.”

“We have an enforcement problem, not a closure problem. If the most egregious violations — such as sitting on seals — were enforced [against],” a closure wouldn’t be necessary, Hoene said.

LJCPA trustee Mike Costello expressed concern about cumulative impacts, and compared the area to the Children’s Pool.

“There were just a handful of sea lions in the La Jolla area [in the 1960s]; they were rare enough that it was a joy to see them,” he said. “In the 1980s, SeaWorld began releasing habituated harbor seals at Children’s Pool. People were told they had to stay away. This encouraged more and more harbor seals to occupy the Children’s Pool, then they started pupping and the city was forced to close the area for the pupping season. Sure enough, they expanded. … When you create a vacuum of people, the population will increase.”

Speaking for the animal-rights groups that advocate closure, Carol Archibald said that with sea lion pups having been born there since 2014, the area has become an established rookery. “Sea lions use both Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach to nurse, pup, mate and molt. They need this beach for birthing. The pups need it because Point La Jolla is very uneven terrain; pups learn how to swim there. It’s important they have beach access, which is safer.”

The decision

Hoping to reconcile the two sides of the issue, LJCPA trustee Glen Rasmussen suggested that “scientific research be done in the form of an EIR, because one has never been done. … The city has engaged in a series of measures … and they haven’t considered the impacts of those actions. We have conflicting viewpoints on two sides and we need some resolution. I think an EIR is the only way we’re going to get it.”

Trustee John Shannon said the EIR could address sea lion carrying capacity (the maximum sustainable population), water quality, spread of disease and other issues.

Rasmussen made two motions: to adopt and sign the letter asking that access to Boomer Beach be preserved, and to ask that the Coastal Commission require an EIR on a proposed closure.

The first passed 11-4, with trustees Helen Boyden, Dave Ish, Greg Jackson and Ray Weiss opposed. Jackson said both sides were not given equal opportunity to speak.

The second motion passed 10-6, with Boyden, Jackson, Weiss, Dan Courtney, Jodi Rudick and Suzanne Weissman opposing without comment. ◆