Council delays action on seal proposal

The City Council on Tuesday delayed a decision on a proposal from seal advocates that would permanently prevent removal of the seals from the La Jolla’s Children’s Pool.

In a closed session, the council considered a proposal that attempts to block a state court judge from requiring the city to dredge the Children’s Pool to remove the colony of harbor seals that live there, according to Bryan Pease, an attorney for the La Jolla Friends of the Seals and Animal Protection and Rescue League.

Council members voted 6-1 to bring the issue back in a public meeting, although a date was not set. First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner opposed the continuance and Councilwoman Marti Emerald was absent.

There are currently two court actions underway with seals. One seeks to continue placing a rope barrier at the pool separating people from seals during the marine mammals’ pupping season.

The other is a lawsuit, O'Sullivan vs. the City of San Diego, which seeks to remove the seals and return the beach to its 1941 condition to honor the terms of the trust deeding the pool from the state to the city. The trust has been interpreted by the courts to mean the pool must be kept as a safe wading area for children.

The terms of the proposed settlement (called) call for:

  • An agreement between the city and federal authorities that a permit from the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act is needed prior to dispersing seals or dredging Casa Beach.
  • The rope barrier separating seals from humans during their pupping season would be made permanent.
  • The attorneys representing seal advocates would waive their right to seek attorneys’ fees from the city.
  • The council would recommend to State Sen. Christine Kehoe that she sponsor state legislation amending a 1931 state law to allow seal habitat as a permissible use at Children’s Pool.
Council members on Monday night listened to opponents and proponents of the proposed settlement, before meeting in closed session Tuesday to render their decision.

Arguing the points

“This (City Council) is the proper forum to decide this issue,” contended Pease. “The city shouldn’t have to spend millions of dollars to remove the seals, hire a full-time seal chaser and dredge the beach, which will lead to coastal erosion.”

Attorney Paul Kennerson, representing O'Sullivan, argued: “The issue is not whether seals, or children, should be allowed at the beach. You’re voting on whether to amend the trust. You cannot vote to change a public trust, which is treated the same as a private trust. A legislative body may not change the purpose of a public trust.”

Natural or not?

Several speakers representing the San Diego scuba diving community testified the mammals’ presence there not only violated the terms of the pool trust, but also the public’s constitutional right to access beaches.

Seal advocates showed a presentation documenting the diversity of wildlife at Casa Beach. They contended the seals are an intricate, and irreplaceable, part of the local marine ecosystem. They also argued that seal watching at Children’s Pool remains a major tourist draw, something that shouldn’t be tampered with during tough recessionary times.