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La Jolla residents offer ideas on seals

Panel to look at options on March 17

A longtime La Jollan believes seals and humans can share the Children’s Pool if the beach can be divided equitably between the two species, respecting the seasonal uses of each.

“We have an opportunity to have a positive impact on the way the city manages Children’s Pool,” said Debbie Beacham, offering her plan during a discussion at the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s March 4 meeting.

Seal advocates and those favoring unrestricted beach access had equal time to present their ideas at the meeting. Planning association president Joe LaCava set aside the time so the community could hear ideas before the city’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee considers the future of the area on March 17.

“For seals’ safety and the public safety, we’d like to keep the beach closed during pupping season,” said Shannon Player, a La Jolla Friends of Seals docent.

Jerry Horna, a colleague of Player’s, went one step further.

“We’d like a declaration that seal watching is the preferred use at Casa Beach and that enforcement of the existing Marine Mammal Protection Act (forbidding seal harassment) is encouraged,” he said.

John Leek, representing the San Diego Council of Divers, had other ideas.

“Citizen access is guaranteed and the city is obligated to uphold all the terms of the (pool’s) trust,” he said. “It’s illegal for the city to enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Only (federal) NOAA can do that.”

Beacham’s Children’s Pool proposal is an attempt to find common ground, with:

  • “Seal Priority Season” from Jan. 1 to May 31, giving protection to seals and pups during pupping season, and
  • “Human Priority Season” from June 1 to Dec. 31, offering unfettered use of the beach/ocean by humans.

Shared use of the area is feasible only if both pro-seal and beach-access sides can reach an “accommodation,” Beacham said. “It has to be a win-win for this to work. It can’t work if you have one side winning and the other losing.”
Beacham has presented her compromise Children’s Pool management plan to both First District Councilwoman Sherri Lighter and District 6 Councilwoman Donna Frye, who chairs that Natural Resources Committee. A time has not been set for the March 17 meeting, which will be held at 1 p.m. in the Committee Room on the 12th floor near the City Council Chambers at 202 C St., downtown.

Beacham is proposing a rope barrier be installed and that the beach be closed to the public, except for emergency access, during pupping season. Public access would be allowed on the beach with no rope barriers daytime hours during “human priority” time in the second half of the year.

Leek, the dive group’s spokesman, suggested that city officials should come up with a written policy detailing how seals should be dealt with on all of San Diego’s beaches.

Longtime La Jollan John Steel saw the seal “situation” at Children’s Pool differently.

“The problem with Children’s Pool is not the seals, it’s the animal activists,” he said to applause. “The city must start to enforce its municipal codes which prevent activists from trying to stop people from going down to the beach.”

Steel added pool signage ought to unambiguously state that the public is allowed on the beach. He added an environmental impact report detailing how to clean up the pool should also be completed.

“There’s a lot of contamination,” he said. “The stench off that pool with the excrement from those seals can be awful.”