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Parks & Beaches group explores Children’s Pool clean-up

La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group member Ken Hunrichs demonstrates how the group might use mechanized rakes to clean up seal waste at Children’s Pool. The sand captures the waste while allowing sand to sift through it.
La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group member Ken Hunrichs demonstrates how the group might use mechanized rakes to clean up seal waste at Children's Pool. The sand captures the waste while allowing sand to sift through it.
Ashley Mackin

Now that Children’s Pool beach (aka Casa Beach) is open to the public after a five-month harbor seal pupping season closure, members of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches (LJP&B) advisory group say they are irritated by the city’s lack of effort to ensure the beach is cleared of harbor seal waste. Members are considering taking cleanup matters into their own hands.

At the May 18 meeting, LJP&B discussed options for cleaning the beach, fearing the City of San Diego will drag its feet when it comes to taking the cleaning action specified in the August 2014 California Coastal Commission (CCC) ruling.

The ruling stated the beach would be closed to the public during the seals’ pupping season — Dec. 15-May 15 annually — and the city would monitor the closure’s efficacy for five years, at which point, the closure permit must be renewed. A condition that the city evaluate the cleanliness of the water and sand, and the feasibility of cleaning the water and sand within that five years, was also part of ruling.

“If you go down to the beach today, it is filled with seal (waste) and it’s not attractive. It certainly doesn’t put La Jolla in a good light. The city waiting four years to come up with their (cleanliness) study is unacceptable,” member Ken Hunrichs opined. “We should be encouraging the city to complete its analysis today, not in four years.”

Member Melinda Merryweather said of the beach re-opening, “Now the city is inviting the children back on the beach ... inviting them to play in seal poop. Where is the sensibility? You don’t invite children to a beach filled with seal poop! Have the decency to clean it up for the children.”

City representative Justin Garver said the city simply needs to have a beach cleaning plan in place by they time it applies for the next Coastal Commission permit in four-and-a-half years, and no additional information is available on its progress developing this plan.

Hoping to have a solution ready whenever the city announces its findings, LJPB board chair Dan Allen compiled a list of cleaning options — two of which were discussed — and members formed a committee to evaluate options and make a recommendation to be voted on at the next meeting.

Option 1: Individual cleaning crews

LJP&B discussed organizing a volunteer effort to clean the beach as individuals. Several members attested to the fact that volunteers have cleaned the beach in the past. However, the CCC only authorizes beach cleanups in areas that have held recorded, historical cleanups, such as La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.

Hunrichs said the city claims to not have a record of Children’s Pool being cleaned and therefore it could not be cleaned in any formal capacity.

“If any of us go down to the beach and there is seal poop where we want to sit, can we move it?” Merryweather posed. “Then why don’t 50 of us go down there and do that?”

To assist, Hunrichs said he had a mechanized rake to clean up seal waste that lets sand sift through.

However, member Jane Reldan said the wrack (type of seaweed) found in the intertidal zone would have to be preserved due to its ecological value. She read a letter issued from a CCC staffer to city Park & Rec district manager Dan Daneri that addresses disturbance or removal of the beach wrack habitat at Children’s Pool.

“Wrack is organic material such as kelp and sea-grass that is cast up on the beach by surf, tides and winds. Intertidal sand is a habitat for a variety of invertebrate such as amphipods, isopods and worms,” she read. “Beach wrack provides habitat for additional beach invertebrates such as flies, beetles, beach-hoppers and their larvae. These species are important food sources for shore birds. As such, beach grooming can have significant repercussions to the natural ecology of sandy beaches and may result in individual and cumulative adverse effects to coastal processes.”

Option 2: Open the sluiceways

When the sea wall surrounding Children’s Pool was constructed in 1931, engineer Hiram Savage installed four sluiceway holes to assist in the removal of sand, according to “Until Kingdom Come: The Design and Construction of La Jolla’s Children’s Pool,” a report compiled by the San Diego Historical Society.

The sluiceways were built and blocked with gates (or grillages) to be opened so ocean water can flush the beach. During the final phase of construction, it was observed the pull caused by the sluiceways being open made it difficult for the pool to establish a sandbar. To remedy the problem, the city decided to close the four wooden grillages. The grillages have since been sealed with concrete.

Nevertheless, LJP&B members have often expressed hope that the sluiceways could be opened once again. In 1998, the group wrote a letter to the city asking it to evaluate the opening, but any response could not be recalled or located.

Reldan argued that should the gates be opened, the sandy beach component -— and current haul out site for pregnant and nursing harbor seals — would be lost.

“That was the point,” Merryweather countered. “It was meant to be a pool. You walked down the stairs and were immediately in knee-deep water. You could learn to swim in the ocean safely. The whole point of the sluiceways was to keep the sand out and the water in.

“The idea that we have a wall with a cleaning system built into it that we have never used is outrageous to me. The idea that the city, which said it would take care of the area, has never opened those gates is appalling.”