Governor signs bill allowing seals to stay at Children’s Pool

The seesaw battle over harbor seals at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool got even more complicated Monday as Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann ordered the city to begin dispersing the marine mammals within 72 hours.

Later in the day, SB 428, a bill co-authored by State Sen. Christine Kehoe and State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher amending the Tidelands trust governing the pool to make seal habitation a permissible use there, was signed into law by Gov. Schwazenneger. The bill however will not take affect until Jan. 1, 2010.

But, by the time the bill takes effect, there may not be any seals left to be dispersed as Hofmann’s order to disperse seals was set to begin today at 9:30 a.m.

San Diego Assistant City Attorney for Civil Litigation Andrew Jones told Hofmann the city would comply with the judge’s order, adding their preferred method of dispersing seals is bioacoustics using the amplified sound of barking dogs.

Attorney Bryan Pease representing the Animal Protection and Rescue League had a counterresponse ready for Hofmann’s order dispersing seals. “I am preparing an emergency motion for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to put a stay on state court Judge Yuri Hoffman’s extreme and illegal ruling that San Diego has 72 hours to disperse the seals,” said Pease. “This comes in the face of a near-unanimous bill passed by the state legislature that would change the wording on the 1931 Tidelands Grant to allow the seals to stay. Hoffman is legislating from the bench and engaging in extreme judicial activism.”

Reacting to the judicial decision, Mayor Jerry Sanders said in a prepared release, “While all research indicates the costly undertaking of seal dispersal is unlikely to achieve the goal of improving water quality at the Children’s Pool, the city must comply with Judge Hofmann’s order. Therefore, the city of San Diego will implement a plan to disperse seals within the next 72 hours in order to avoid the heavy financial sanctions the judge has threatened. We will disperse the seals as humanely as possible and in accordance with the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and I urge the passionate activists on both sides of this issue to behave peacefully and to cooperate with law enforcement officers who will be on site during dispersal activities.”

“We certainly can’t physically harm the seals,” said Jones following the hearing. “We’ll do the best we can with the methods that we have to disperse the seals.”

Asked what it would cost to disperse the seals using bioacoustics, Jones replied, “Six- hundred-eighty-eight thousand is our estimate. That’s the cost of hiring someone to have the acoustical device walk up and down the beach, and possibly having police officers there for the protests that we think might occur.”

Jones added the state legislation concerning Children’s Pool could render Hofmann’s ruling “null and void.”

State Sen. Christine Kehoe, SB 428’s co-author along with Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, said her legislation which has been signed into law by the governor would give the city of San Diego discretion on whether the seals stay. “Judge Hofmann’s order appears to be a hasty move,” she said. “The city has already spent over $1 million in legal fees and the judge should take into account the legislature’s strong bipartisan effort to spare the city from spending an additional $700,000 to immediately remove the seals.”

Hofmann also set an Oct. 4 court date to hear an update on progress being made by the city on an environmental impact report for dredging Children’s Pool.