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San Diego applies for seasonal closure of Point La Jolla

The proposed Point La Jolla closure area is outlined in red, with a blue area for "ocean access for recreation activities."
The proposed closure area of Point La Jolla is outlined in red, with a blue area for “ocean access for recreation activities,” as submitted by the city of San Diego to the California Coastal Commission.
(City of San Diego)

The annual closure, from May 25 to Sept. 15, would preserve some access to adjacent Boomer Beach. The application will be heard by the California Coastal Commission.

After months of local discussion and debate on the specifics of how to keep people and sea lions apart, the city of San Diego has filed a permit application to the California Coastal Commission for a seasonal closure of Point La Jolla, including dates, boundaries and methods.

The annual closure would be in effect daily from May 25 to Sept. 15, during much of the sea lion pupping season, which is commonly recognized from June 1 to Oct. 31.

The application will be heard at an upcoming Coastal Commission meeting. The agenda for the next meeting has not yet been published.

Point La Jolla, a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach where sea lions go on land to rest and give birth, was closed for five weeks last summer, Aug. 11 to Sept. 15, on an emergency basis following months of reports of beach-goers bothering, and in a few cases harming, sea lions and their pups.

City spokesman Tim Graham has said the Point La Jolla closure “is intended to protect both the public and sea lions during pupping season. ... Sea lions, especially mothers who are nursing and feeding their young, can become aggressive and cause bodily injury when they feel threatened as a result of visitors that get too close.”

The proposed action is similar to the emergency closure in that it would include posted signs, a K-rail barrier and a chain to cordon off the beach access stairs at the border of Point La Jolla and La Jolla Cove.

The annual closure area, known to some as “the pork chop” for its shape, would include Point La Jolla and some of the bluffs overlooking Boomer Beach.

The latter site has been the subject of debate for months.

Throughout the process, City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, spoke of preserving access to Boomer Beach during a seasonal closure of Point La Jolla. In early January, LaCava presented a proposal similar to the emergency closure, in which the southern boundary of the closure area allowed for access to Boomer Beach by way of a trailhead known mostly to locals.

A week later, a revised proposal expanded the access to the Boomer Beach bluffs — and decreased the closure area — by about 20 feet.

The map in an updated permit application reserves a portion of the southern boundary as “ocean access for recreation activities,” including swimming, bodysurfing, snorkeling, spearfishing and diving. Flotation devices, including boats, kayaks and surfboards, are not allowed in the area.

The plan left people on opposing sides of the issue — those who want less closure and those who want more — dissatisfied.

Robyn Davidoff, a docent with the Sierra Club Seal Society, said the proposed seasonal closure is too short. “Pupping season is recognized in published scientific papers as starting in mid-May,” she argued. “Six sea lion pups were born by the end of May in 2021 at the rookery. The Children’s Pool is closed for five months for harbor seal pupping season and this permit application for sea lions is less than four months. Sea lions need six months, as they spend more time on land and develop more slowly than seals.”

She also said the proposal “lacks details and boundaries,” compared with the emergency closure.

“The boundary line shown in the permit leaves sea lions and newborn pups exposed to human interaction and puts visitors at risk when 800-pound bulls fight for territory,” Davidoff said. “We prefer the boundary line used during the temporary emergency closure, which significantly reduced human-caused sea lion disturbances while leaving access for avid ocean users.”

Beach access advocate and bodysurfer Kurt Hoffman said the beach access provided in the proposal is “an improvement” with “better delineation.”

Hoffman led the charge before local groups such as La Jolla Parks & Beaches and the La Jolla Community Planning Association to have as much access preserved as possible.

While the latest map “achieves our objective of providing access to Boomer Beach,” the coastal access issue is one of many associated with the closure. He noted that local advisory groups have asked for a report to evaluate the environmental issues associated with the current sea lion population, sea lion carrying capacity (the maximum sustainable population), water quality, spread of disease and other issues.

“The city is trying to do the cheapest, simplest thing but they need to address the environmental issues and the status of the park,” Hoffman said.

Before temporarily closing Point La Jolla last year, the city tried other methods to deter people from getting close to sea lions, including signs and increased ranger presence.

In December, Coastal Commission members called people interacting with and touching the animals “a pervasive issue” and “quite disturbing.”

Karl Schwing, the commission’s district director for the San Diego Coast and South Coast, said at the time that “we have been working with the city on bringing forward an application to manage the situation with a seasonal closure and some other steps. We have urged them to do that quickly.” ◆