Advertisement

Coastal Commission approves year-round closure of Point La Jolla for at least the next seven years

Sea lions haul out on Point La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

San Diego has been trying for more than two years to keep people and sea lions apart at the rocky area between La Jolla Cove and Boomer Beach.

Share

The California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the city of San Diego’s plan to seal off Point La Jolla from the public year-round, a closure scheduled to be in effect for seven years to keep people and sea lions apart.

The commission Sept. 7 approved an amendment to an existing coastal development permit that authorized Point La Jolla’s annual six-month closure from May 1 through Oct. 31 during sea lion pupping season. The amendment extends the closure to all year.

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.

The seasonal closure, which began last year, came after months of reports of people going onto the rocks and bothering — in some cases harming — sea lions and their pups. The 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.

Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach, outlined in red
Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach, outlined in red, are closed seasonally from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year, though a year-round closure is planned. The public still has water access in the blue striped area of Boomer Beach.
(City of San Diego)

The commission’s approval came with conditions including four additional “Area closed” signs to try to ensure an adequate number to notify the public and reduce trespassing. In addition, preparation and submission of a monitoring plan to be conducted during the seasonal closure is to be modified for year-round.

After the seven-year period, the city will need to apply for another amendment or a new coastal development permit to continue the public access restrictions, according to the commission.

During the board’s deliberations, Commissioner Caryl Hart expressed concern that seven years isn’t “a sufficient time period to have a [coastal development permit] need to be renewed.” She said her preference would be for the time period to be doubled.

Karl Schwing, director of the commission’s San Diego Coast District, said “we didn’t extend it beyond that time period because we were trying to pair it up with the action that applies to the Children’s Pool.”

A permit for closing La Jolla’s Children’s Pool each year from Dec. 15 to May 15 during harbor seal pupping season will be up for review in 2029.

Commissioner Gretchen Newsom said the proposed wording for the signs is too “San Diego sweet and a little too weak.” She said the prominence of the words “City of San Diego” and “Area closed” or “Warning” present a false impression that tourists can access the area without penalty.

“I would much rather see [phrases such as] ‘No trespassing, government property, you will be fined,’” she said. Additional information about why there is a closure also would be beneficial, she said.

“I think it needs to say ‘Warning’ in big red letters with several exclamation points,” said Chairwoman Donne Brownsey. “That will get people’s attention.”

California Coastal Commission Chairwoman Donne Brownsey
California Coastal Commission Chairwoman Donne Brownsey presides over a discussion of the planned year-round closure of Point La Jolla. The commission met Sept. 7 in Eureka.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Commission staff agreed to work with the city on the language of the signs and to refine the process of issuing citations and determining penalties for violations.

City staff member Cherlyn Cac said the penalties “would depend on how egregious [the violation is]” but ultimately would be a “court’s decision.”

During the hearing, representatives of animal-rights groups such as the Sierra Club Seal Society, San Diego Audubon and more spoke in favor of the closure, while local beach access advocates pleaded for continued access and an environmental impact report associated with the closure.

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, reiterated his support for the closure and thanked the commission for its “good work of balancing protecting coastal resources and coastal access with the city’s obligation to protect public safety.”

He said the seasonal closure has been effective in controlling crowds, and he promised to keep watch on the year-round closure’s effectiveness and work with city and Coastal Commission officials on revisions should they be needed.

More than two years in the making

The city has been trying for more than two years to keep people away from sea lions at Point La Jolla.

In June 2021, the 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.”

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 from Aug. 11 through Sept. 15.

In April 2022, the Coastal Commission voted unanimously to approve the annual seasonal closure from May 1 to Oct. 31.

In April this year, LaCava told the La Jolla Community Planning Association that the city, under Coastal Commission direction, intended to extend the closure to all year for the safety of sea lions and humans alike.

“People don’t understand that a 500-pound sea lion is a wild animal and will do anything to protect their pups,” he said.

City Council hearing

The San Diego City Council has scheduled its final hearing on closing Point La Jolla year-round. The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, in the council chamber at 202 C St. in downtown San Diego.

The public may attend in person or view the meeting on public television within San Diego on Channel 24 for Cox Communications and Spectrum and Channel 99 for AT&T. It also will be livestreamed on the CityTV platform at sandiego.gov/communications/citytv. ◆