Judge: Let the La Jolla seals stay


The mood at a rally at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool last Friday was jubilant following a ruling that seals not be dispersed and the beach not be dredged, though it was not entirely certain the controversy over shared use of the pool is finally over.

“It’s an end to a chapter,” said outspoken seal advocate Marjane Aalam, who voluntarily patrols the beach at night making sure seals aren’t disturbed. “But I think there will be other chapters in the book.”

For now, she said, Judge Timothy Taylor’s decision in the long-running controversy appears to render the dispute over shared used of the pool by humans and seals moot.

Paul Kennerson, the attorney challenging the presence of the seals at Children’s Pool on behalf of Valerie O'Sullivan, said he would leave it up to his client, who now resides in New Zealand, whether to appeal Taylor’s ruling.

Expressing admiration

But Kennerson’s remarks in court left doubt that he would do so.

“If this is the end of the line for my client, I’d like to say I admire her for her courage in the face of what’s been overwhelming opposition to her position,” he said.

A couple of hours later, a small but intimate group of people who want the seals to stay braved the blustery late afternoon at Casa Beach, carrying pro-seal signs and chanting “Save the seals” while passing motorists honked in support.

Mixed emotions

They seemed as much relieved as elated by Taylor’s decision, given that the previous judge in the case, Yuri Hofmann, had given the city just 72 hours to begin dispersing the seals from the pool as recently as July 20. Hofmann was forced to stay that order three days later after SB 428 passed. The bill, co-authored by San Diego’s state Sen. Christine Kehoe and state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher amending the Tidelands trust governing the Children’s Pool to make seal habitation a permissible use and gives the City Council authority over the matter, was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At last Friday’s hearing, the judge noted SB 428’s passage effectively changed the legal situation at the pool.

‘About respect’

“The grant of the trust has been amended and the trust language has been altered,” he said. ‘This case isn’t about seals versus children. It’s about showing respect for the two other branches of government: the legislative and the executive.”

Immediately following Taylor’s decision, Deputy City Attorney George Schaefer hailed it as the correct one, noting it will now be up to the San Diego City Council to decide Children’s Pool’s fate.

Longtime La Jollan and ocean-access advocate Melinda Merryweather said Taylor’s decision was “insane.”

“I don’t see how in the world the city can shove a marine mammal venue down our throats without providing 3,000 parking spaces,” she said. “You can’t even put a coffee shop in La Jolla without parking.”

Merryweather added that she didn’t feel the state Coastal Commission will allow a marine mammal park.

“It’s going to play itself out, but in a different venue,” she said of the pool controversy.

At the Nov. 13 “seal celebration” at the pool, Cindy Benner, president of La Jolla Friends of the Seals which runs a docent program there, talked about what she and her group would like to see happen now.

“We’d like to set up a marine mammal park,” she said. “Eventually, we’d like to have the beach closed off, but for now we’d just like to get the rope line (separating seals from humans) up on a permanent basis.”

Others echoed Benner’s position.

“Nature brought them (seals) here and wherever nature wants them, is where they should be,” said Ellen Cohen, who lives a couple blocks from the pool and walks there daily.

“It’s a great day,” said ardent seal supporter Ellen Shirely of San Diego. “The seals have finally won a place that’s their home.”