Mayor declares first round of La Jolla Cove stench cleanup a success


By Pat Sherman

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner released a statement Thursday, June 27, deeming the first phase of the city’s effort to eradicate the odor at La Jolla Cove a success.

The mayor’s office said Blue Eagle Distribution, the contractor hired to cleanse the excrement-covered rocks, was able to substantially reduce odors related to bird guano deposits — which were between two and three inches thick in some areas.

A more extensive, second phase of the cleanup is scheduled to begin in early August.

“There has been an amazing change since we got started out here,” Filner said, in a statement. “I told the guys from Blue Eagle that I wanted this done right and they took care of it. This is a great success.”

The city hired Blue Eagle at a cost of $50,000 to apply guano-eating bacteria to the cliffs above La Jolla Cove, as well as city hired consultants such as biologist Keith Merkel to assure that wildlife was safe and the water surrounding the work site was free of runoff.

Filner said annual maintenance of the cliffs is expected to cost about $100,000.

However, La Jolla Village Merchants Association Board President Phil Coller said most of the people he has spoken with in La Jolla view removal of the fence in front of the cliffs — erected in the late 1970s in response to safety and liability concerns — as a more cost-effective and practical solution.

“That’s the general consensus from everybody that I’m hearing from,” Coller said. “It’s the lack of access by humans that has caused the problem. … The long-term, low-cost solution is to allow people to get back to the rocks, with the appropriate safety measures in place, like signage or putting some fence closer to the edge. … I’s going to allow (human) traffic, then the number of birds will be reduced to what it was.”

Mark Dibella, La Valencia Hotel’s Managing Director, concurred, saying that while the hotel has noticed a “livable” reduction in the smell, hotel management hopes removal of the fence is still under consideration as a long-term, cost-effective solution (Dibella said he was discussing this option with Filner’s chief of staff, Allen Jones, prior to Jones’ abrupt June 21 resignation).

In the meantime, Blue Eagles’ contract requires that its workers avoid nesting birds or other wildlife that might be disturbed by the work. The requirement has prevented Blue Eagle’s crew from covering as much area as they had hoped. In addition, environmental regulations require that workers leave a three-foot-wide strip at the cliff’s edge untouched.

“This has always been planned as a two phase effort,” said Mayor Filner. “We knew there might be some limitations because of the nesting season and we understand that some of the odor may linger a bit longer,” he said. “Even so, what Blue Eagle has accomplished so far is amazing. The odor is down and fun is back up in La Jolla.”

Blue Eagle workers will return to the cliffs following the nesting season to apply another round of its product across a broader area. It is hoped that this two-phase approach will relieve the odor problem throughout the coming year.

Until the second phase begins, Merkel said workers are monitoring how rapidly new bird and marine mammal waste is deposited on the rocks to determine the frequency of treatment required in the future. Before the work had been completed, however, Merkel said fresh bird and sea lion waste was discovered on the treated areas.

Merkel said disruptions to sea lions, cormorants and pelicans was expected during the work, but minimized. Most of the sea lions moved to other rocks or entered the water upon the workers’ arrival each morning, though workers had to give a wide berth to some marine mammals that stood their ground, and returned to treat those areas at a later time.