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San Diego’s annual seasonal closure of Point La Jolla is planned to mirror emergency closure of 2021

People gather on Point La Jolla to view the sea lions there after last summer's emergency closure was lifted.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The city is collecting feedback on the plan and has created a website for comments.

The first set of details in the city of San Diego’s plan for a seasonal closure of Point La Jolla was unveiled at the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s Jan. 6 meeting.

The first draft of the closure permit application is the same as for the emergency permit that was executed last summer, though it could change in coming weeks based on public input.

Just like during the emergency closure from Aug. 11 to Sept. 15, the off-limits area would be composed of both sand and bluffs and be bordered by the beach access stairs to the north, the concrete wall along the boardwalk to the east, and a plastic barrier to the south about 25 feet from the end of the metal railing along Boomer Beach. The closure would be in effect during the recognized sea lion pupping season from June 1 to Oct. 31.

The planned closure, like the emergency closure, comes after months of reports of beach-goers bothering, and in a few cases harming, sea lions and their pups at Point La Jolla, a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach where the animals go on land to rest and give birth.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association is presented a map of the proposed seasonal closure area of Point La Jolla.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association is presented a map of the proposed seasonal closure area of Point La Jolla. It is the same area as during the emergency closure last summer.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said the permit application “is truly a draft document. What you’ll see is bringing back the closure we saw in the emergency action last year, but more sophisticated and more detailed. But we’re asking for input — what have we missed, do you like it, do you not like it?”

City Parks & Recreation Department Assistant Director Karen Dennison said the city has created a website for collecting feedback at sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/point-lajolla.

She said the boundaries and signage of the previous closure would continue, but the use of rangers would increase.

“Rangers are an important part of the closure; they are an important part of the Parks & Recreation workforce,” Dennison said. “We have been fortunate since the time of the closure to be able to get additional resources. … We currently have two dedicated to the shoreline; we are going to get five full-time park rangers. You are likely to see those rangers onsite during the closure seven days a week during peak hours. We hope the rangers will moderate the interactions taking place at Point La Jolla.”

As plans for a seasonal Point La Jolla closure were being discussed last year, the Community Planning Association wrote two letters to LaCava.

One asked for expanded access to Boomer Beach, which is revered by bodysurfers given that no floatation devices are allowed. A small trail leading to Boomer Beach is on the other side of the plastic barrier marking the south end of the closure area.

The other letter asked that an environmental impact report be conducted on any future closure.

LaCava said the letters have been “considered,” and added that much of the feedback has opposed the closure in its entirety.

He said the access to Boomer Beach is being preserved “as it was last year; that is not changing.”

The requested EIR is out of the city’s jurisdiction and would be up to other entities such as the California Coastal Commission, he said. “We’re doing what we can with our resources, authority and jurisdiction.”

During public testimony at the LJCPA meeting, speakers on both sides of the issue pleaded their case.

Beach access advocates questioned whether the closure would prompt more sea lions to haul out in the area and whether that would lead to increased presence of great white sharks.

“Anyone with any sense of logic will realize we will see more great white sharks in La Jolla,” said bodysurfer Kurt Hoffman. “There are no barriers that keep them out of La Jolla.”

This commentary originally was written as a letter to San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, city Parks & Recreation Department Director Andy Field and LaCava policy advisor Brian Elliott.

Others continued to ask that the access to Boomer Beach be expanded.

“That is the only access point to that public beach, and the map shows a little bit of access, but it is not a formal access,” Andrew Leach said. “It is very steep, there is a 3-foot drop-off and a steep cliff. The closure needs to be pushed more northeast [to provide more access].”

Others said there are surrounding coastal areas to which the sea lions could be moved that would be less impactful to people, and they reiterated the importance of an environmental study.

“I think we need to look at the environmental impact of the sea lions and the tourists and what it is doing to our environment,” Morgan Launer said. “We haven’t looked at how this interaction is changing the behavior of the sea lions, what their presence is doing to the water and how it is impacting the environment around Point La Jolla.”

Conversely, animal-rights advocates argued that the closure last summer was successful and should be repeated.

“The closure is essential,” said Sierra Club Seal Society docent Robyn Davidoff. “Over the weekend, there were 4,000 people a day in the sea lion rookery, within feet of the sea lions. Closing the area to tourists … is key.”

The windswept rocks along the coastline of Point La Jolla are home to a year-round rookery of California sea lions.

During LJCPA board comments, trustee Glen Rasmussen said: “You are closing a public coastal access without understanding the reasons for it. I don’t accept that the city doesn’t have the funds for an EIR; they are the ones taking the action.”

Reflecting on a similar closure that takes place Dec. 15 to May 15 annually at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool for harbor seal pupping season, trustee Mike Costello said: “Ten years ago, I said if you close the Children’s Pool to humans for the pinnipeds, you will be closing beaches further up the coast. So after you close this beach … which other beaches will you close permanently in La Jolla?”

After a brief discussion, LJCPA voted unanimously to reaffirm its request for expanded access to Boomer Beach and for the city to request or conduct an EIR.

LaCava said more details will be available after the permit application is finalized and that he would present it to community groups such as the La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Parks & Beaches.

In late January or early February, the proposal will be presented to the City Council’s Environment Committee and the full council to address a proposed update to the San Diego municipal code should an annual closure be recommended.

The application must be submitted for city approval by Feb. 6, according to the city’s self-imposed deadline. After that, it is expected to go before the Coastal Commission in the spring. ◆