Give it a Whiff! Crew says La Jolla Cove stench cleanup was a success

A Blue Eagle worker sprays a layer of cleaning agent on the bluffs in front of Brockton Villa restaurant last week at the Cove. Ashley Mackin

By Ashley Mackin

When the second and final phase of this year’s Cove cleanup began Sept. 24, it marked the beginning of the end of the infamous stench. San Diego Department of Park and Recreation spokesperson Bill Harris reported to La Jolla Light that he considers the cleanup to be a success, based on its predetermined intention.
A Blue Eagle worker sprays a layer of cleaning agent on the bluffs in front of Brockton Villa restaurant last week at the Cove. Ashley Mackin

Harris pointed out that the goal was to diminish, not completely eliminate, the pungent odors resulting from years of animal guano buildup on the Cove cliffs. The noticeably reduced odor, as well as feedback from the community, indicate the effort worked.

As they did during the first phase of the cleanup on May 28, Blue Eagle Distribution crews applied a product containing bioactive agents to the rocks, which Harris said digests guano and essentially digests itself, so there is no need for removal of the product.

The second phase came only with clearance from a biological consultant that the nesting season for area birds is over. After “a longer nesting season than we thought,” Harris said crews started with the area in front of the Cave Store. The following two days, the area in front of Brockton Village restaurant (or, above “The Clam”) was sprayed. The final area, the rock formation closest to the actual Cove, was cleaned Friday, Sept. 27.

It took several years for the guano to accumulate and cause the smell to get to the level it was at, so Harris said the city has not discussed when another application might be needed.

Harris said both applications addressed “years and years of buildup,” and that it could be another several years before the issue resurfaces. At that time, the city would evaluate community input and available financial resources, as well as consult with a biological consultant before making a decision about whether to move forward with another application.

The city will, however, continue to monitor the Cove for changes in odor and pungency.

As to any frequency or regularity of future sprayings or exploring other cleansing solutions, Harris said no decision has been made. Posted notices indicated the crews could be out as late as Oct. 4, based on wind predictions. However, Harris said the wind was not as strong as weather forecasters predicted, which allowed Blue Eagle crews to finish sooner.

All the cliffs that were identified as in need of service (and safe to access) were treated with the “cleansing” product. Crews would spray an initial layer onto the rocks, targeting areas with dense guano buildup, then a few hours later, would apply another layer to the broader area.

District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner said of the cleaning process, “The private contractor has been able to substantially reduce the foul smells by applying two phases of a mix of odor-eating bacteria to the cliffs covered by bird droppings. I am committed to continue working with all stakeholders to assess the long-term success of this effort and to look for additional ways to keep the odor under control in the future.”

Joanna Capps, assistant general manager at La Jolla Cove Suites, which has been adversely affected by the longtime Cove odors, said she has already noticed a change for the better.

“It has definitely diminished. It’s not as bad and not as frequent,” Capps said. “It was really bad for us before. We had guests complain, check out early and say they weren’t coming back.”

She added that she was hopeful the burden to businesses is over, “We like that we can tell guests the city has done something about this and they can come enjoy La Jolla again.”