City won’t add rails to La Jolla Cove bluff path; lifeguards may lock gate

By Pat Sherman and Ashley Mackin

A lock placed on a gate the city recently installed in the fence above La Jolla Cove was only temporary, and intended to keep people from walking onto the bluffs during last week’s dangerous high surf.

City officials have stated that the gate — installed to facilitate human access to the Cove bluffs as a deterrent to sea lions and birds gathering and defecating there — will remain unlocked.

A private citizen ostensibly upset with people walking so close to the wildlife placed a lock on the gate shortly after it was installed, though the lock was promptly cut off (reportedly by a local business owner).

Private citizens are not permitted to lock the gate, though Jill Esterbrooks, communications director for District 1 San Diego City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, said lifeguards at La Jolla Cove may lock the gate if they feel the tide is too high or conditions make it unsafe to walk on the bluffs. People noticing a lock on the gate may ask a lifeguard or consult tidal charts at the Cove lifeguard tower as to how long the lock may remain in place.

Much ado about poo?

A lawsuit filed in December on behalf of the nonprofit “Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement” (comprised of residents and business owners fed up with what they consider city officials’ reluctance to solve the Cove odor issue) could be dismissed if the nauseating, albeit recently diminished, smell does not return in full force.

La Jolla Shores attorney Norm Blumenthal of Blumenthal, Nordrehaug and Bhowmik, who filed the complaint, confirmed that merchants are reporting a significant decrease in the stench since easy human access to the bluffs was restored. Their presence has served as a legal and gentle deterrent to sea lions and cormorant birds gathering there.

“So far, so good,” Blumenthal said.  “There is some residue there, but it’s not a substantial problem. We’re hoping that it all just goes away.”

A hearing in San Diego Superior Court is scheduled for May. The San Diego City Attorney's office did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit by press time.

“Hopefully by then the smell will be gone and we can dismiss (the suit). If it’s not, hopefully they’ll come up with other avenues of correcting it,” Blumenthal said, noting some methods the city can employ to legally scatter the birds and sea lions (in part per the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act), such as the use of air dancers, noise or water spray.

The city is currently working on a comprehensive plan to manage La Jolla’s coastline and wildlife, including the seals at Children’s Pool and the sea lions at La Jolla Cove.

However, Blumenthal said a request in the suit that the city add handrails to the path leading from the gate to the bluffs — a suggested safety precaution — won’t likely be adopted.

“As long as the city doesn’t take any steps to make it safer with handrails, they’re not liable for anybody falling,” explained Blumenthal, who said he discussed the matter with the city attorney, comparing it with a similar legal quandary at Black’s Beach decades ago. “If they put in handrails, then they’d be assuming liability for people falling.”

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