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Nighttime scofflaws at Point La Jolla draw dismay from wildlife advocates

A sign along the concrete wall that lines Point La Jolla directs people away from the bluffs.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Although a ranger has been assigned to the Scripps Park area during the day to enforce the city of San Diego’s closure of Point La Jolla, some local volunteers are keeping watch for what they say is an emerging problem of illegal activity in the area after dark.

“There is quite the list of violations, especially on weekends,” said Donna Beal, who said she has been staying at Scripps Park until midnight on weekends. “City ordinances say not to drink or smoke, but you’d be hard-pressed not to find people not drinking in the park over the summer. There are drones and electric vehicles. I saw someone chasing a pelican with a drone.”

She said she also has seen people entering the bluffs of Point La Jolla despite the ongoing public closure during pupping season for the area’s sea lions, which go on land there to rest and give birth. The closure, which began last month and continues through Oct. 31, was instituted to keep people away amid reports that some visitors were harassing or even harming the marine mammals. The closure area extends to the majority of the bluffs over adjacent Boomer Beach.

A ranger or ranger aide is assigned to Point La Jolla from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily to patrol the area to ensure that visitors adhere to the closure restrictions and other regulations.

For city of San Diego park ranger aide Gilbert Herrera, his new position at Point La Jolla is a decade in the making, giving him the opportunity to transition to a role he says is due to “perfect timing.”

“Last night, after the ranger left, people jumped the wall and got selfies,” Beal told the La Jolla Light on June 1. “The police had to be called to advise them of the regulations. There are also dogs off leash during the off hours. People are going up to the sea lions with their dogs.”

A dog and a sea lion face off in a screenshot from a video in March.
(Courtesy of Elena Tillman)

Beal said that one night recently, at 11:40, she witnessed a group of people jumping the wall with flashlights to take pictures with sea lions that were resting on land.

“I’m getting tired of people violating the space of the wild animals,” she said. “They are breaking the law because they want the ‘likes’ on social media. … All night long you have a stream of people with flashlights that light up the cliff. They blast light into [the sea lions’] faces.”

Fellow volunteer Angela Moini said she has gone to Scripps Park at night since 2017 and has made similar observations recently.

“I moved to San Diego because of that park,” she said. “During the nighttime, criminal activity is very bad. I’ve seen people get drunk and use drugs and chase the sea lions.”

She said she occasionally pretends to call 911. “I don’t want to bog down the police line, but I want them to think I’m calling the police.”

“They have no mercy for the species; it is all about them and their social media,” Moini said. “I grew up with animals in my house … animals are much like us, just in different packages. I see myself in them. It hurts me to see people hurt them.”

The issue of illegal activity was raised at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board meeting May 23.

“The very first night that Point La Jolla was closed, vandals removed five signs posted across the Boomer Beach trail,” said Sierra Club Seal Society docent Ellen Shively. “The act was repeated several nights later. Other acts of defiance occurred under cover of night.”

“During the nighttime, criminal activity is very bad. I’ve seen people get drunk and use drugs and chase the sea lions.”

— Angela Moini

Docent Elena Tillman said that “given the lack of oversight and surveillance during evening hours, I witnessed numerous violations of the municipal code. … Intoxicated individuals ... consuming alcohol and/or drugs on the premises often leads to egregious harassment of the marine life. … At bare minimum, I have seen people shine flashlights directly into the eyes of the marine life when they are trying to rest.”

She added that nighttime visitors also have been seen littering, “with the trash inevitably ending up in the ocean.”

Beal said she would like to see more signs and more enforcement.

“Without any law enforcement onsite at night, none of the city ordinances are being followed,” she said. “It will bring more crime into the area when law enforcement looks the other way.”

Beal suggested that police occasionally show up between 9 and 11 p.m. to help deter rule-breakers.

“There needs to be clearer signage, and the signs are up on a light pole where people can’t see them,” she added. “Rangers also need to be posted along the path from The Cave Store to South Casa Beach at night.”

San Diego police did not respond to the Light’s request for comment, nor did representatives of the city Parks & Recreation Department. ◆