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CPA won’t stand in way of Pool’s dredging

The La Jolla Community Planning Association once again took up the issue of the seals at Children’s Pool, but most eyes seemed focused on three upcoming dates and two government bodies that will have much more say on the ultimate fate of the animals.

Trustees on Sept. 3 voted 12-1 to approve two permits having to do with a city plan to remove one-third of the beach where a colony of harbor seals has famously made its home. The plan will be heard by the San Diego City Council on Sept. 22.

The project would attempt to restore Children’s Pool and Casa Beach to its 1941 configuration by removing 3,000 cubic yards of sand and moving it to South Casa Beach. To expose pathogens to the air and the sun’s cleansing ultraviolet rays, the sand would be moved and raked 200-300 cubic yards at a time in layers no more than two feet thick, said Alex Hardy of IFC Jones & Stokes, an environmental consulting firm working with the city. This exposure would kill most of the harmful bacteria in 90 minutes, he said.

The entire process would take about 30 days at a cost of less than $600,000, said Samir Mahmalji, project manager from the city’s Engineering and Capital Projects Division.

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Mahmalji confirmed the excavation project would be the staff’s recommended option with four alternatives when the City Council takes up the matter. The Environment Impact Report is available at the La Jolla Library.

The City Council wants to consider the plan before Oct. 6, the next time the Superior Court Yuri Hofmann takes up the lawsuit on the matter. In 2005, that court ordered the city to remove the seals and restore the pool to its 1941 condition. However, recently passed Senate Bill 428 could give the council the ability to rule on the long-running controversy when it takes effect Jan. 1.

As a body that advises the City Council on land use issues, the CPA limited its action to the Coastal Development Permit and Site Development Permit. But that didn’t stop trustees and a handful of audience members from sounding off on a host of issues, including whether Senate Bill 428 would hold up in court, and whether the city would disregard the plan and declare the pool a seal sanctuary.

Trustee Mike Costello questioned whether the procedure would be effective in cleansing the sand, which has become contaminated from seal feces. “It’s a doable project if you truck (the sand) away.”

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Local resident Melinda Merrywhether said the project would be improved by reopening the long-closed sluiceways, which would remain buried under the proposal.

She said she knows of two contractors who could access the sluiceways by cutting the wall and putting a bridge on top for “about $150,000.”

Accessing the sluice gates was considered and rejected because it would require excavating more sand, Mahmalji said.

“So much of this stuff is really beyond our control,” CPA President Joe LaCava said after the meeting.

Several trustees and audience members questioned Senate Bill 428, which amended the 1931 Tidelands Trust by adding “marine mammal park for the enjoyment and educational benefit of children” to the list of allowable uses at Children’s Pool.

The legislation is incompatible with the original intent of Ellen Browning Scripps, who paid for the construction of the wall, they said.

“The Senate bill will be challenged and the city will be forced to return the pool to children,” said Dr. John Steel, a local swimmer.

Trustee Orrin Gabsch agreed, adding that he thinks the council won’t approve the excavation plan because it doesn’t want to spend the money. “Follow the money. What’s really going on behind the scenes is a delay tactic to stave this off as long as possible.”

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Gabsch hinted the council would play up negative aspects to justify its inaction, “just as before, when they made it unpalatable as possible when they said they wanted speakers with barking dogs.”

Copies of the EIR are available from the Office of Development Services at $26 for hard copies with additional CDs for $5. Call Yoshie Howser at (619) 446-5189.