San Diego planning year-round closure of Point La Jolla

Signs like this along Point La Jolla would be a permanent sight in San Diego's plan to close the area year-round.
Signs like this along the concrete wall that lines Point La Jolla would be a permanent sight in the city of San Diego’s plan to close the area year-round.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The city of San Diego plans to make the seasonal closure of Point La Jolla year-round, saying it doesn’t have enough staff to keep people “out of harm’s way” when the area is open.

The plan, announced at the April 11 La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting, would extend the annual six-month closure of May 1 through Oct. 31 during sea lion pupping season to all year. The seasonal closure, which started last year, is implemented through signs, a chain across the wooden access stairway and two K-rail barriers on the western end of the closure 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. The seasonal closure also applies to most of Boomer Beach, where sea lions also haul out.

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said the seasonal closure was intended “mainly to protect the public ... [because] people don’t understand that a 500-pound sea lion is a wild animal and will do anything to protect their pups.”

He called the seasonal closure “very, very successful” and noted that as part of the permit process, the city was asked to submit a final long-term management plan to the California Coastal Commission to cover “what we have learned, what we are thinking about and what we would like to do going forward.” A preliminary management plan was submitted in October.

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 preliminary plan recommended that the closure dates, location and methods stay the same in the long term. San Diego’s permit for the closure is in effect for seven years, assuming the city meets conditions set by the commission.

However, LaCava said, the conclusion of the final long-term management plan is “to close Point La Jolla all year-round [because] we don’t have the resources at the city to keep the public out of harm’s way and off of Point La Jolla. We talked about adding park rangers, we talked about adding cameras and none of those appear to be feasible.”

“The Coastal Commission has directed the city to amend the coastal development permit and call for a year-round closure of Point La Jolla,” he said.

Boomer Beach water access via a makeshift trail will remain open, LaCava said, though the bluffs overlooking Boomer Beach also will be closed year-round.

No closure is being considered at La Jolla Cove, LaCava said. The city would “fight very hard” against any efforts to restrict access to The Cove, he added.

A map indicates the Point La Jolla closure area, with the blue area available for ocean access only via a makeshift path.

Beach access advocate Melinda Merryweather told the La Jolla Light that she finds the year-round closure plan for Point La Jolla “incredibly sad for our beach community ... and I am sure [late La Jolla philanthropist] Ellen Scripps would be heartbroken to see what is happening to the ocean parks she gave to us.”

On the other side of the closure debate, Robyn Davidoff, chairwoman of the Sierra Club Seal Society, said: “The city worked on the long-term management plan for just under a year, and our first review of it last week shows that they exhausted every possibility prior to reaching a year-round closure decision. ... This plan is a win-win: It ensures public safety, reduces sea lion harassment, the ocean access corridor remains open year-round and visitors from around the world can view the sea lions in their natural habitat from the boardwalk.”

Currently, city park rangers patrol San Diego’s 13.7 miles of coastline between Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and Torrey Pines State Beach from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The team rotates up and down the coast throughout the day, making stops at various spots. During last year’s seasonal closure of Point La Jolla, a ranger or ranger aide was assigned to the area from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily.

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.”

Some people at the Community Planning Association meeting suggested using volunteers to help patrol the area, but LaCava said using volunteers “creates confrontation.”

LaCava said the city has filed the final long-term management plan but the Coastal Commission has not yet signed off on it. Once the plan is approved, the city will submit an amended permit to indicate that the closure is year-round.

The public will have an opportunity to weigh in when the city submits the amended permit for approval. A date for that hearing has not been scheduled.

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava addresses the La Jolla Community Planning Association on April 11.
San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava addresses the La Jolla Community Planning Association on April 11 to announce the city is pursuing a year-round closure of Point La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

LaCava said the city hopes to have the amended permit approved by the end of October, when the seasonal closure would otherwise end.

The plan for the year-round closure comes after two years of attempts to keep people away from sea lions at Point La Jolla.

In June 2021, following months of reports of people bothering, and in some cases harming, sea lions and their pups, the Sierra Club Seal Society and Sierra Club San Diego called on Mayor Todd Gloria to declare an emergency and temporarily close Point La Jolla to the public during sea lion pupping season while keeping the viewing area from an adjacent wall open.

Rather than pursue a closure, the city in early July that year posted signs at the entrance to Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach, some of them reading “Stay back: Sea lion birthing area.” Others cautioned that sea lions can bite and that harassing them is against the law.

Stenciling placed on trash cans, the sidewalk and the short wall that lines Point La Jolla reads “Do not approach mothers or pups” and “Do not approach sea lions.”

But in August 2021, LaCava said the city had decided to take “more assertive steps,” and the area was closed for five weeks on an emergency basis Aug. 11 through Sept. 15.

In April 2022, the Coastal Commission voted unanimously to approve a seasonal closure from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year. ◆


2:08 p.m. April 12, 2023: This article was updated with additional comments and information.