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Long-desired rangers could be at Point La Jolla by the end of April

People gather at Point La Jolla with sea lions nearby.
(Courtesy of Ben Gish)

Docents, bodysurfers, swimmers and others have asked for rangers to be stationed at the location to manage crowds. TAKE OUR POLL: Are park rangers necessary at Point La Jolla?

Despite fundamental disagreements on the subject of Point La Jolla, beach access advocates and animal-rights groups seem to agree on one thing: Rangers are needed there.

Both sides have spoken at recent public meetings about the importance of rangers to manage crowds at Point La Jolla, where sea lions go on land to rest and give birth and where people inevitably gather to see them.

And the wish for rangers may soon come true. The city of San Diego’s fiscal 2022 budget comes with funding for two more park rangers and a chief ranger, and city spokesman Tim Graham told the La Jolla Light this week that “the city is in the process of onboarding five additional park rangers for the beaches and shoreline area. We anticipate there will be a daily ranger presence in the Point La Jolla area by the end of April. ... A minimum of one park ranger will be onsite seven days a week during peak hours year-round.”

That’s an update from the past few months, when San Diego representatives had said the city was “training and hiring” rangers, with no clear indication as to when any might be stationed in La Jolla.

Docents from the Sierra Club Seal Society who regularly patrol the area say they have had to engage in crowd control because there are no rangers to keep people away from the sea lions. On the other hand, bodysurfers, spearfishers, swimmers and others who frequent the area contend the docents are acting outside their purview and that a ranger would be a more neutral party.

TAKE OUR POLL: Are park rangers necessary at Point La Jolla?

At the Feb. 28 La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting, docent Robyn Davidoff said rangers are “desperately needed” because people are often getting close to sea lions in numbers beyond what the docents can manage. “We don’t want to police the area. … Rangers would resolve the situation and manage it,” she said.

Docent Carol Toye said: “We know some people object to our approach to keeping people away from sea lions. What we have said, and the simple solution is, assign rangers to the area during daylight hours … so docents can concentrate on educating the public and ocean access can be facilitated through ranger guidance. I hope we can all agree that an independent authority should be down there.”

During a temporary closure of Point La Jolla last year, a ranger was onsite to keep people off the closed bluffs. Docents said that system needs to be returned.

Ocean access advocate Kurt Hoffman says rangers are “better than the docents for patrolling the Point area because the people respect their authority and realize that docents don’t have any. So both parties get frustrated with the current situation.”

At the LJP&B meeting, Larry Asakawa, who frequents Point La Jolla and nearby La Jolla Cove, said that “after seeing the chaos [during a recent crowded weekend] with a lot of people there in an uncontrolled environment … I hope the city can get rangers there. They would be professionals and have enforcement power and quite a bit of knowledge.”

Some have argued that the docents have engaged in “incivility” such as yelling, grabbing and other behavior toward people on the Point that is not allowed in terms of crowd control and that a ranger would be the appropriate authority.

Although a planned closure of Point La Jolla to keep people and sea lions apart isn’t scheduled to go into effect until May 25, docents with the Sierra Club Seal Society stand guard every day with signs telling people to keep their distance from the pinnipeds.

Graham told the Light that “Seal Society docents are free to educate those who visit and use the Point La Jolla area.” However, he said, “volunteers in the Point La Jolla area are not allowed to enforce any local, state or federal laws or regulations. ... They are able to report any violations that occur to the appropriate agency or government entity.”

Federal law prohibits harming or harassing a marine mammal or causing it to disrupt its behavioral patterns, including migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding and sheltering.

The education the Seal Society provides can be delivered both in writing and verbally, Graham said, including answering visitors’ questions about the pinnipeds and other wildlife in the area; recommending the best places to view sea lions from a safe distance; referring visitors to the signs and stenciling that indicate what they are allowed and not allowed to do in the area; and distributing materials such as pamphlets and fliers to help educate visitors about the animals, plants and surrounding areas.

“We don’t want to police the area. … Rangers would resolve the situation and manage it.”

— Sierra Club Seal Society docent Robyn Davidoff

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, petitioned for the new rangers during the budget planning and review stages last year. He emphasized their importance in helping to keep people away from sea lions in areas like Point La Jolla.

“These rangers will serve as educational assets to visitors as much as a regulatory authority to the site,” LaCava said after the funding for the rangers was finalized. “Park rangers are essential in maintaining our city’s natural recreational resources and ensuring they continue to exist and thrive for all to enjoy. Between District 1’s shoreline parks and vast amount of open-space land, these rangers will help provide valuable, much-needed oversight, helping manage and maintain these environmental treasures.” ◆