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San Diego submits preliminary long-term plan for management of Point La Jolla seasonal closure

Point La Jolla is again open to the public, but not many people were walking on the bluffs the afternoon of Nov. 2.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Recommended dates, location and methods are the same as during this year’s seasonal closure, which lasted from May 1 to Oct. 31, but the plan also calls for data to be collected to measure the closure’s effectiveness.

The city of San Diego submitted its preliminary long-term management plan for the annual seasonal closure of Point La Jolla to the California Coastal Commission, meeting the Nov. 1 deadline.

While the recommended dates, location and methods are the same as were in place during this year’s seasonal closure, the plan also calls for data to be collected to measure the action’s long-term efficacy.

The 36-page report was prepared by Doyle Hanan of Hanan & Associates Inc., the same firm that prepared the Marine Coastal Management Plan for the city in 2017, which was intended to provide guidance to manage seals and sea lions, as well as various sea birds roosting and nesting in the La Jolla area.

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. Most of Boomer Beach — where sea lions also haul out — is included in the closure area as well, though the ocean is accessible via a makeshift path.

“This long-term plan aims to manage better California sea lion beach use and human interactions in and around the Point La Jolla bluffs, as specified in the … seasonal closure of Point La Jolla,” Hanan wrote. “This plan is a living document that can and should be modified as conditions change.”

In the report, “the city describes the shoreline habitat, the California sea lion population status, interactions between them and the public, goals and objectives and proposed management specifics for the annual closure at the Point La Jolla bluffs,” Hanan wrote.

The Coastal 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.

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 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.

Visitors used the access stairs — which were locked during the seasonal closure — to reach the Point La Jolla bluffs Nov. 2.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The creation of a long-term plan is one of several conditions the commission put in place when it approved the city’s application.

Data collection

The permit also requires development and implementation of a monitoring plan to help evaluate the effectiveness of the seasonal closure in reducing harassment of sea lions. Thus the report includes recommendations for data to be collected.

That data “will be used to assess the level of use (frequency and spatial extent) by sea lions of the haul-out site at Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach throughout the year and to determine the effectiveness of the seasonal beach closure at minimizing harassment of hauled-out sea lions,” Hanan wrote. “The collected data will be analyzed, with results and conclusions submitted as part of the required annual report.”

An assigned park ranger, lifeguard or city-trained volunteer will, at a minimum, collect the following data year-round:

  • The number of marine mammals hauled out in the closure area
  • The number of marine mammals hauled out in the ocean access corridor at Boomer Beach
  • The number of people present on the concrete walkway at the top of the bluffs
  • The number of people present on the bluffs when they are open
  • The number of people using the ocean access corridor
  • The state of the tide
  • The weather conditions
  • The water temperature
  • The air temperature
  • The date and time
  • Any relevant or descriptive comments or observations, including the location of people on the beach

Harassment data (number of incidents, number of citations and warnings, and outcome of citations and warnings issued) will be recorded at least 16 days per month, including all weekends and holidays.

Measurements will be recorded at least three times a day, including 10 a.m. and 1 and 4 p.m.

According to the report, the required data may be collected either by direct visual observation or by review of time- and date-stamped video or photos of the bluff and beach area.

A map indicates the Point La Jolla closure area, with the blue area available for ocean access only via a makeshift path.
A map in the Hanan & Associates report indicates the Point La Jolla closure area, with the blue area available for ocean access only via a makeshift path.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

‘Disappointed’

Volunteers from the Sierra Club Seal Society currently patrol the area to encourage people to view marine life from the sidewalk.

Seal Society Chairwoman Robyn Davidoff said she’s not satisfied with the recommendations in the report.

“The Sierra Club Seal Society ... is disappointed and concerned with its lack of completeness,” Davidoff said. “It failed to address the sea lions in La Jolla or offer any solutions for managing public access and marine mammal interaction [a requirement of the permit is for the plan to include ‘strategies to reduce harassment outside of the pupping season while maximizing public access’]. ...

“The preliminary management plan provided by Hanan leaves rangers with a tough task since it doesn’t provide direction for managing public access and marine mammal interactions, nor does it provide for consistency in managing the area.”

Davidoff suggested the city give rangers “increased enforcement tools and possibly a municipal code to prevent harassment of wildlife.”

She said the Sierra Club was working with UC San Diego students to “collect data and learn how to change people’s behavior around wildlife. We are also reaching out to other wildlife organizations to learn best practices.”

During the months that Point La Jolla is open, the city asks that visitors view the sea lions “from a safe distance,” San Diego spokesman Tim Graham said.

Park rangers will continue to be onsite year-round from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, depending on the season, to monitor the area and educate the public on how to view the marine life, he said.

What’s next

Graham added that work on the final version of the plan will commence shortly, “with the intent to submit to the California Coastal Commission by the deadline of April 1.”

The Coastal Commission will review the preliminary report and offer its feedback at a future meeting. The commission next meets Nov. 16-18 in Salinas, but it isn’t yet known whether the report will be discussed then. ◆