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San Diego faces Nov. 1 deadline for long-term management plan at Point La Jolla

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

The Sierra Club Seal Society advocates continuing the current seasonal closure until a plan is set.

With the current seasonal closure of Point La Jolla ending Monday, Oct. 31, the city of San Diego is preparing a long-term management plan for the area that is due to the California Coastal Commission by Nov. 1.

City spokesman Tim Graham told the La Jolla Light that the city is “on track” to meet the deadline.

But representatives of the Sierra Club Seal Society spoke during the public comment period of the Coastal Commission’s Oct. 12 meeting in San Diego to plead for a continued closure until the long-term plan is in place.

The commission voted unanimously April 8 to approve San Diego’s request for a permit to close Point La Jolla to the public each year during sea lion pupping season from May 1 to Oct. 31. The permit will be in effect for seven years, assuming the city meets conditions set by the commission.

Point La Jolla is a rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach where sea lions go on land to rest and give birth.

The annual closure was approved after the area was closed for five weeks on an emergency basis in late summer 2021 following months of reports of people bothering, and in some cases harming, sea lions and their pups.

The creation of a long-term plan is one of several conditions the commission put in place when it approved the city’s application. The condition requires the plan to include “strategies to reduce harassment outside of the pupping season while maximizing public access.”

Visitors gather to view sea lions at Point La Jolla in June 2021, before that year's emergency closure.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The seasonal closure is implemented through signs, a chain across the wooden access stairway and two K-rail barriers on the western end of the closure area.

Seal Society docent Carol Archibald told the Coastal Commission that the closure of Point La Jolla has been a success, saying “harassment incidents were reduced from 15 per hour prior to the closure to 20 in the first three months of the closure.” She said a ranger presence has been “essential in enforcing the closure and providing education opportunities.”

However, docent Carol Toye said violations have taken place at night after rangers left for the day, and she recommended that rangers be given the authority to close the area “when they are not present … or when conditions are dangerous, [such as] when bulls [male sea lions] are present, there are rough seas or high tides.” A mechanism to further close the area was not disclosed.

Toye also recommended that rangers be given the authority and “enforcement tools” to move people to the sidewalk when there are large crowds.

She said a railing should be installed at the low wall along the boardwalk where guests “often climb over to approach the sea lions,” and should be extended to limit entry points.

Visitors to Point La Jolla view the sea lions from behind the short wall that separates the sidewalk from the bluffs.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The Seal Society has not been consulted about the long-term plan, but its chairwoman, Robyn Davidoff, said organizations such as the Sierra Club, “who have extensive onsite experience” with the area, should be, as well as rangers who are there frequently.

Noting the imminent deadline for submission of a long-term plan, Davidoff said “the Sierra Club Seal Society asks [that] the CCC and the public be given adequate time to thoroughly review the plan before it is implemented to ensure that it is enforceable … and [that] access remain restricted as it is now until a management plan is approved.”

Graham said “all observations and lessons learned during the seasonal closure have been carefully considered and will be incorporated into the long-term management plan. Details will be available Nov. 1 when the preliminary plan is released and has been submitted” to the Coastal Commission.

“The city has been able to obtain valuable information related to staffing and enforcement from the seasonal closure,” Graham said. “These insights will help inform future planning for how the area is managed and help prioritize the safety of both the public and marine life while providing access to the water for those groups that need it.”

Once the closure is lifted, both the Point La Jolla closure area and the nearby water access zone at Boomer Beach will be open to the public until the next seasonal closure goes into effect next May 1.

“However, for the safety of visitors and the welfare of the animals, we continue to ask the public to view the sea lions and other wildlife from a safe distance,” Graham said. “Park rangers will continue to be onsite seven days a week year-round between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., depending on the season. Rangers will continue to monitor the area and educate the public on how to view marine life from a safe distance.”

In addition to the long-term plan, another condition of the permit is to “assess the effectiveness of the seasonal closure and determine if significant changes have occurred,” said Kaitlin Carney, a coastal planner for the commission.

The city must submit by March 1 each year a monitoring plan including the area’s level of use by sea lions and the effectiveness of the closure in eliminating harassment by humans. ◆