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New Point La Jolla closure proposal ‘still not quite right,’ some say

Members of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board are presented with an updated closure boundary map for Point La Jolla.
Members of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board are presented with an updated closure boundary map for Point La Jolla. The red line indicates the area that was closed last year, while the yellow line marks the new proposed southern boundary.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Not even the offer of more access to Boomer Beach was enough to satisfy some who attended this week’s La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting to discuss the planned closure of Point La Jolla, with people on both sides of the issue saying the closure boundary still isn’t right.

For the beach access advocates in attendance, the latest map still doesn’t provide enough access or address root concerns associated with the closure, while animal-rights advocates argued the proposal offers too much human access to an area populated by sea lions.

The Jan. 24 meeting provided an opportunity for the public to provide input, but the board did not vote on the proposal.

The planned closure is intended to keep humans and sea lions apart amid ongoing reports of people bothering or harming the animals at Point La Jolla, a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach where sea lions rest and give birth. It would take effect sometime during the recognized sea lion pupping season, June 1 to Oct. 31, but San Diego city representatives said an exact timeline or closure duration had not been decided.

The off-limits area would include 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 next to the cliffs over Boomer Beach.

A first draft of the presentation was presented at the La Jolla Community Planning Association in early January. It mirrored last summer’s emergency closure from Aug. 11 to Sept. 15 in that it had the same closure area and also would use signs, chains and K-rail barriers to keep people away.

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said that in the week since the LJCPA meeting, the closure plan had been updated to reflect feedback from meetings with interested parties, letters from LJCPA and other input.

At the LJP&B meeting, LaCava said: “Input provided so far at multiple meetings this month has been very helpful. We have refined and will continue to refine our proposal. Access to Boomer Beach is important, so we have adjusted the boundary.”

In the latest map, more access to Boomer Beach — which is coveted by bodysurfers — is proposed by shrinking the closure area. City Parks & Recreation Department Assistant Director Karen Dennison said the new boundary “provides at least two ways to access the water. … That is something we are talking about.”

During public testimony, Hal Handley said the map is “still not quite right” because the new boundary line is on an access path and should be moved to clearly exclude the path from the closure area. “I believe the intent is to keep that access for humans, but that area is a walkway to the beach; it is for both the safety of the divers and swimmers to go by that beach that way [because you won’t be] smashed into the cliffs,” he said.

Volker Hoehne of the San Diego Waterman’s Alliance thanked LaCava’s office for “maintaining historic access to Boomer Beach” but continued to oppose closing Point La Jolla, noting the frequent use of that location by divers to access the ocean.

Others said having partial access “will lead to confusion and be hard to manage” and that the sea lions “need to be managed” rather than the humans.

Arguing against the increased access, the Sierra Club Seal Society wrote in a statement to the La Jolla Light after the meeting that “the Sierra Club Seal Society has documented that the sea lion rookery uses all of Boomer Beach and Point La Jolla for birthing, mating and raising their young. We recommend the original … boundary used during the temporary closure, which leaves open the historic access trail used by spearfishermen and bodysurfers. We oppose splitting the rookery in half … or creating an entry/exit corridor within the rookery area during pupping season. All 16 rookeries in California are closed during pupping season, including the Children’s Pool. Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach require the same protections.”

In addition to the access issue, several in attendance expressed concern that the closure would lead to an increased sea lion population, which in turn would lure more sharks to the area. LaCava said he had contracted marine biologist Doyle Hanan to consult on the matter. Hanan is the author of the Marine Coastal Management Plan the city funded to evaluate the burgeoning sea lion population at La Jolla Cove in 2016.

“This a science-based solution,” LaCava said. “We are aware that anytime you talk about beach closures or you talk about seals and sea lions, that inevitably leads to a conversation about sharks. … We have been looking at [bringing in] shark buoys [like] we are seeing showing up in our coastal cities.”

Dennison added that Hanan would “help us look at whether a closure is necessary [and] what are the elements associated with the closure if one is deemed needed. We talked through the health of the sea lions and how to manage that from an operations perspective.”

LJP&B Vice President Bob Evans said that “whatever gets decided about the beach access and sea lion safety,” there should be a more holistic approach. “There is a big picture that needs to be looked at. … That can really only be addressed within a scientific study such as an environmental impact report. I give the city an ‘A’ grade for the prioritization of ranger staffing, but what we don’t need are cheap kneejerk reactions … like the signs and orange barriers. It’s not a good fit for a park that is known for its natural beauty.”

The city has created a website for collecting feedback at sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/point-lajolla. ◆