Assembly panel OKs bill on seals

A state Assembly committee on Monday unanimously approved a bill co-sponsored by State Sen. Christine Kehoe to amend the trust governing La Jolla’s Children’s Pool and allow seal habitation there.

The bipartisan State Assembly Natural Resources Committee voted 8-0 in favor of the SB428, which Kehoe said could be heard by the full Assembly and voted on as early as next week - well before the next court hearing on July 20.

“We have summer recess starting July 17 and I don’t know if we’ll make that deadline,” said Kehoe, noting the governor would have 12 days to sign the bill should it be passed.

“We could get it to the governor’s desk before summer recess,” she said, adding the bill isn’t categorized as urgent, though it does enjoy bipartisan support that could move it along. The bill would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2010.

If it passes before July 20 when the city of San Diego returns to Judge Yuri Hofmann’s courtroom with its revised plans for dispersing seals at the pool, Kehoe said, she “would guess a judge … would take into consideration that this would soon become law,” Kehoe said.

She reiterated she’s not taking a stand for or against joint use of the seals and humans at Children’s Pool.

“It’s a tool the city can use to resolve ongoing litigation,” she said. “That’s the most important part, that we give the city the opportunity to clarify its own policy.”

La Jolla Community Planning Association member Tom Brady went to Sacramento to testify against the bill before the Natural Resources Committee.

“I was the lone dissenter to the Kehoe bill,” said Brady, who gave the committee an excerpt from the stipulation that the state of California entered into in 2005 with Judge Michael Pate’s order mandating sand dredging and cleaning of the pool.

“The state agreed to be bound by the decision of the Superior Court, whichever way the decision went,” said Brady. “And the decision said Children’s Pool had to be made habitable to children and to dredge the sand.”

Attorney Bryan Pease, who’s been campaigning for enactment of a permanent rope barrier at the pool to separate marine mammals from humans and against dispersal of seals, said what the state legislature does should “trump” whatever happens in court.

“The legislature gets the final say,” argued Pease, who represents the Animal Protection and Rescue League. “It’s the state’s land. It’s owned by the people of the state of California. The court is only the interpreter of the will of the legislature.”

Noting the bill passed unanimously at the committee level, Pease said he is confident the full Assembly is likely to concur and pass SB 428.

Paul Kennerson, the attorney representing Valerie O’Sullivan who has been successfully arguing in court that the seals’ presence at the pool violates the trust governing it, has a different opinion on the content - and intent - of SB428.

“Legally, it will be challenged,” Kennerson said of the bill. “Despite what everybody is saying, the bill reads that the pool shall be either a marine mammal park or a bathing pool, both mandatory and mutually exclusive. So who wins? If it must be one thing or the other, and that’s inconsistent, so it seems to me the first thing (marine mammal park) has to go.”