Lightner calls for public input on seal plans

Even as a temporary restraining order remains in effect at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool preventing the seals dispersal, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner is imploring the city of San Diego to let the community help decide how to get the mammals off the beach should that be ordered by the courts.

Speaking Tuesday at a press conference outside City Hall, she reiterated her position, which she said she has held since before being elected in the First District. She said she “favors honoring the trust (donating the pool as a swimming area for children) and establishing co-existence of people and seals at Children’s Pool.”

But she added that she wants an open process to find the “safest, most humane and cost effective” solutions and a plan that complies with court orders and federal regulations that will be acceptable to the community.

“The public has demanded involvement on this issue,” she said. “The city must not shut out the public.”

To that end, she will host two forums on the matter, but not one she had planned to review the court’s seal dispersal order.

The first will focus on a plan for managing the beach this summer. It will be held

at 6 p.m. June 18 at La Jolla High School.

The second will look at “the community’s ideas for the establishment of a marine mammal park. It is set for 6 p.m. June 25, also at the high school.

Meanwhile, the City Attorney’s office responded to Monday’s ruling that the federal court’s temporary restraining order is still in effect, saying the city is caught in judicial conflict: ordered to remove seals by the state court and to allow them to remain by the federal court.

“This underscores our position that the solution to this dilemma is through state legislation that allows the city to decide the use of this beach,” the City Attorney’s statement read. “Once adopted, this legislation will render the state court order moot. We believe it is prudent to put all litigation on hold pending the state of California’s action, as owner of this beach, to change the terms of the trust.”

SB 428, which would amend the Children’s Pool trust to make seal habitation an allowable use, has passed the state senate and will be heard later this month, possibly on June 15 at a hearing of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

That would be the same day that Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann will receive a new plan for the seals to be moved. On May 27, Hofmann had ordered the dispersal but rejected the plan submitted by city officials that had called for amplifying the sounds of barking dogs to scare the 200 or so seals off the beach.

At her press conference, where a handful of seal supporters were present, Lightner explained that the memo she sent to Sanders’ office amending dog leash laws at the Children’s Pool came from a public suggestion. Current regulations allow dogs on beaches before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. in the summer, and after 4 p.m. during winter.

“We know the city has beaches frequented by dogs,” Lightner said late last week when the idea first surfaced. “We just want some parameters, get some costs.”

On May29, the two women who sent the note to Lightner were at the beach with their dogs and were warned by the women who were staffing the information table not to harass the seals.

One of the women, La Jollan Ellen Seaborn, who was walking her poodle said, “I have been totally appalled by the rudeness and lack of civility of the seal activists. We don’t want to be harassed and bothered.”

She said she and her friend only want to find a solution that won’t cost the city money, referring to the proposal submitted to Hofmann that estimated it would cost about $689,000 for the barking-dog sound system and supporting security measures.

“I’m here to protect the seals in accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA),” answered Dorota Valli, campaign coordinator for the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL). “It’s a small group of people who want the seals removed. Dog beach, as I read the 1931 tidal grant, is not a permissible use of the beach.”

On Tuesday, responding to reporters’ question about why San Diego cares Lightner called the seal issue “an issue of a public trust. Failure to enforce the law should be a concern to everyone.”

As for the cost, she added, “I don’t think you can put a cost on enforcement.”