City Council gives thumbs up on rope barrier, ranger, seasonal closure of Children’s Pool beach

After four hours of public testimony and debate, the City Council voted to close Children’s Pool beach during seals’ pupping season. The council also voted to keep the rope barrier separating humans from seals up year round, prohibit dogs on the beach at all times and to hire a privately funded ranger to enforce regulations and lead a city-sanctioned docent program.

The council’s action came in two separate votes: 6-2 in favor of seasonally closing the beach and putting the rope barrier up permanently with Council members Sherri Lightner and Tony Young dissenting; and an 8-0 vote in favor of hiring a park ranger and making the beach off limits to dogs.

The council also unanimously approved a motion by Lightner directing staff to study whether the current Dec. 15 to May 15 seal pupping season was appropriate, and to report back on the process and costs associated with changing those dates if necessary.

Seal advocates were first up, with presenters showing a series of videos depicting humans encroaching on seals at the pool causing them to flush into the water or be otherwise visibly disturbed. One video showed people crowding seals at the pool just a day after the pupping season rope barrier was removed last weekend.

Quoting a line from the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” Ellen Shively, president of La Jolla Friends of Seals, said, “I urge you to have the courage of the lion, the heart of the tin man and the wisdom of the scarecrow and pass this ordinance tonight.”

Joe LaCava, president of La Jolla Community Planning Association, the community’s city–recognized advisory board, noted the community has spoken unequivocally in favor of the ranger but against closing the beach or always having the rope up. “We’re looking to build a better joint-use policy that upholds the (pool’s) trust and supports the seals,” he said. LaCava also urged that a scientific task force be created to study the impacts of joint use at Children’s Pool.

Longtime La Jollan Melinda Merryweather showed a video of the late Ellen Revelle, grand-niece of Ellen Browning Scripps and widow of UCSD founder Roger Revelle, testifying that she felt Scripps would have wanted the pool she paid for to create 80 years ago reserved as a safe wading area for children. “Give us back our pool,” concluded Merryweather.

In casting her votes, Lightner reiterated her view that closing the beach during seal pupping season and having the rope barrier up year round would be costly, time consuming and unnecessary with approval of a ranger to patrol the beach. She also cautioned that performing either action could lead to continued costly litigation, which the city is trying to avoid.

Jan Goldsmith, city attorney, said placement of the rope barrier year round at the pool will require a declaration that a “coastal emergency exists,” something he said only the mayor can do. Asked if the city council could override a veto by the mayor on that issue, Goldsmith replied, “yes.”

During public testimony, a couple of beach-access proponents argued that a seal colony will undoubtedly invite shark predation, and ultimately, tragedy. “Predators will find prey,” testified longtime La Jollan Orrin Gabsch. “I hope there are no dire consequences when that will occur. They will come — and I’m not talking about tourists.”

Councilman Ben Hueso noted shark attacks are extremely rare and those few that have occurred were not in the vicinity of the seal colony at Children’s Pool, which has existed for nearly 20 years.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald noted the board had the chance to “press the reset button” with Children’s Pool management, characterizing conflicts between humans at the pool as “good people behaving badly,” which she said “sends the wrong message.”

Councilman Todd Gloria called the Council’s vote on a management plan for Children’s Pool “a step in the right direction,” and a lesson that “human beings should shape our natural environment, not dominate it.”