San Diego City Council finalizes year-round closure of Point La Jolla
On Nov. 1, when signs marking a seasonal closure would have come down, they instead will remain for seven years.
The San Diego City Council unanimously approved a year-round closure of Point La Jolla for seven years during its Sept. 18 meeting.
The vote followed in the footsteps of the California Coastal Commission, which 11 days earlier unanimously approved the city’s plan to seal off the rocky area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach from the public year-round to keep people and sea lions apart.
The council approved an amendment to a coastal development permit that authorized Point La Jolla’s annual six-month closure from May 1 through Oct. 31 during sea lion pupping season, when the animals give birth. The amendment extends the closure to all year.
Thus on Nov. 1, when signs marking the closure area would have come down, they instead will remain. After the seven-year period, the city will need to apply for another amendment or a new coastal development permit to continue the access restrictions.
The closure also applies to the bluffs at Boomer Beach, where sea lions also go on land. 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 at Point La Jolla 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.
During an extensive public comment period at the council meeting, animal-rights activists continued to advocate for the closure in the interest of protecting the animals.
Opponents offered various arguments against it. One showed a video of a shark eating a sea lion near La Jolla and contended that the closure would lead to growing numbers of sea lions and of sharks attracted by them. Others expressed concern about the precedent the closure would set and whether surrounding areas would be next.
La Jolla’s Children’s Pool already is closed from Dec. 15 to May 15 annually during harbor seal pupping season. The permit for that closure will be up for review in 2029.
La Jolla Parks & Beaches President Bob Evans asked that the city conduct a report during the seven-year Point La Jolla closure period to assess its environmental impacts and “together, develop a long-term plan … that works for everyone.”
Because the closure area is in the coastal zone — a space that is in both city and Coastal Commission jurisdiction — the permit application needed to be approved by both.
During City Council deliberations, all members who spoke supported the closure, though Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert raised questions about whether it would lead to limited access at nearby beach access points.
She said she “would not want to support further closures of beaches where people are swimming, but given … there will still be access to the beach … I will support the item today.”
In making the motion to support the closure, Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, noted that the process started years ago and “didn’t start with closures” but with a gradual set of regulations.
In June 2021, 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.”
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.
Following the decision, the Sierra Club Seal Society issued the following statement, “This year-round closure will keep the public and sea lions at safe distances to protect both people and the animals. ... Since the seasonal closure was put in place, closure of this area of less than 150 yards of coastline has been proven to be effective and provides a safe wildlife viewing area. More marine birds have also been seen using the area, flora and fauna is recovering and there is less trampling and associated erosion undermining the boardwalk wall.” ◆
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