Year-round closure plan for Point La Jolla to proceed to full San Diego council hearing

Point La Jolla currently is closed through October for sea lion pupping season.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Some members of the Environment Committee say they’d like to know more about environmental factors associated with extending the current seasonal closure to all year.


The San Diego City Council’s Environment Committee voted unanimously July 20 to send a recommendation for the year-round closure of Point La Jolla to a full council hearing.

Some committee members said they’d like to know more about environmental factors associated with the closure before the full council votes on the matter. A date for that has not yet been scheduled.

The planned amendment to the San Diego municipal code would extend the annual six-month closure, currently May 1 through Oct. 31 during sea lion pupping season, to all year.

The city enacted the seasonal closure last year to keep people off Point La Jolla to address “various reports of harassment and problematic interactions onsite between humans and the sea lion population which has grown in recent years,” said Karen Dennison, assistant director of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department.

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 closure also applies to the bluffs at Boomer Beach, where sea lions also haul out.

Boomer Beach water access remains open via a makeshift trail.

Dennison said the year-round closure is needed to comply with California Coastal Commission direction that “asked the city to amend its current coastal development permit for the area.”

Amendments to both the coastal development permit and the municipal code are required for a closure of any type.

A year-round closure would be in effect “until the city can adopt additional long-term strategies to manage the area,” Dennison said. Those strategies could include installation of a security camera and a gate at the top of a wooden staircase that currently is blocked with a chain.

The municipal code amendment would make the presence of humans and dogs illegal within the closure area, though it would specify that city crews may enter the area at any time to perform maintenance, repairs or rescues.

San Diego Councilman Joe LaCava advocates year-round closure of Point La Jolla during an Environment Committee meeting.
San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava advocates year-round closure of Point La Jolla during an Environment Committee meeting July 20.
(Screenshot by Elisabeth Frausto)

Environment Committee Chairman Joe LaCava, the San Diego councilman for District 1, which includes La Jolla, said: “The seasonal closure worked. From May through October, the closure protected the public from sea lions, minimized interactions and conflict and gave our rangers the enforcement tools they needed to let the public experience the area from a safe distance.

“Extending to year-round will provide continuity.”

During public comments at the committee meeting, seven people spoke against the proposed closure and four spoke in agreement with it.

Wildlife advocates and other supporters of the closure said it is necessary to keep people and sea lions apart for the safety of both.

Previous actions “have not been effective in keeping the public and sea lions at safe distances,” said Carol Toye of the Sierra Club Seal Society.

“It’s unsafe to have high numbers of visitors entering a breeding area with a population of around 200 sea lions year-round,” she said. “Closing this area will also restore it from severe erosion and will create an area where visitors can marvel at the views.”

Phillip Musegaas, executive director of the nonprofit San Diego Coastkeeper, said sea lion populations face many stressors, including toxic algae blooms and a pending El Niño that may affect their food supply.

“We need to find a way to balance and coexist,” Musegaas said. “The sea lions need to have this pupping area, along with the need to keep people safe.”

Opponents argued for a study of the environmental effects of the closure.

“With the increasing sea lion presence, the once-thriving tide pools in the area have been decimated,” said Bob Evans, president of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches group, which last month voted to formally oppose the year-round closure.

“The Cove and surrounding beaches and waters continually tested show bacteria levels that exceed county health standards,” Evans said.

“A complete closure of the beach does not have to be the solution if the intent is to protect the wildlife,” he added.

“The water quality of The Cove will continue to decline,” said ocean access advocate Kurt Hoffman.

Hoffman also expressed concern that further sea lion protections would attract more sharks to the area and endanger humans in the water.

An environmental study has not been done because “the action is the closure of the beach, and everything involving the sea lions is an existing condition,” said Rebecca Malone, environmental review program manager for the city Planning Department.

City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell said “I think it’s important that we include those things because we need to make sure we’re not sending the divers and swimmers, the surfboarders, out into filthy water that can make them ill.”

Council member Marni von Wilpert, the committee vice chairwoman, said, “I’ll support this to go to the full council, but I’d love to get more questions answered between now and then, especially about the environmental issues.” ◆