Pupping season beach closure at La Jolla Children's Pool up for council vote

By Pat Sherman

The San Diego City Council will vote on a proposal to close Children’s Pool beach (aka Casa Beach) during the seals’ winter pupping season, 2 p.m. Oct. 29 at city council chambers, 202 C. St. (12th floor) in downtown San Diego. The public may attend and fill out speaker slips to comment before the vote.

In September, the city’s Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend the city council adopt an ordinance that would close the beach to all human access during the seals’ five-month pupping season (Dec. 15-May 15).

In May 2010, the city council voted 6-2 for the winter beach closure, though subsequent challenges sidelined its wishes.

The proposed ordinance would declare the area an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA), and require a coastal development permit and amendments to the Local Coastal Plan. Beach access would be restricted via a post-and-chain barrier and signage halfway down the concrete steps leading to the beach.

Jane Reldan of La Jolla Friends of the Seals, which advocated for the closure, stopped by the

La Jolla Light

office last week with political consultant Adrian Kwiatkowski, whom the group recently hired to represent itself.

Seal advocates gained a victory earlier this year when the city installed a year-round guideline rope across the beach, meant to keep humans a safe distance from seals. The rope plan  must be reviewed by the California Coastal Commission and renewed at the end of three years.

Reldan reiterated her group’s belief that the closure is necessary to protect pregnant seals and their pups during the winter.  She said mother seals often face the “Sophie’s Choice” of having to abandon their pups, or face “a stampede of panic by all the other seals.”

“Once they get scared, they get scared,” Reldan said. “They don’t distinguish between people wanting to photograph them and people wanting to touch them … or someone who really wants to harm them.”

If a seal is abandoned during the first 48 hours after it is born, Reldan said, it remains abandoned on the beach.  “It’s really a cruel fate and it’s preventable,” she said. “If we prevent the problem of people going on the beach, we will not have abandoned pups.”

From March 10 to May 15 of this year, when former mayor Bob Filner ordered the nighttime closure of Children’s Pool beach, there was an 85 percent reduction in the number of seal harassment incidents (from 14 to 2), Reldan said. The winter closure being proposed would not include closure of the adjacent seawall — a popular spot from which the public views the seals.

However, beach access proponents maintain that closing Children’s Pool during the winter is the wrong course of action.

“We do still think there is a better way to manage this unique resource,” said Friends of the Children’s Pool president Ken Hunrichs, who advocates joint use.

In a letter to city council members dated Aug. 18, Hunrichs said the “creative but unjustified designation of the Children’s Pool as an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area” is “full of flaws.”

Hunrichs maintained that “converting city parkland to a wildlife preserve where citizens are barred from use is a direct violation of (San Diego) City Charter section 55, and must have the approval of the voters of San Diego (via a two-thirds majority).”

He added that ESHA designation is “illogical,” and violates the City Charter and Children’s Pool Trust.

Meanwhile the “Seal Cam,” approved by Filner used to monitor the seals and possible harassment, remains in storage while the new lifeguard tower is built. Filner signed the order to close the beach at night following a high-profile incident in which two young women were caught harassing seals via the Seal Cam.

“This is the only seal rookery south of Ventura County because the whole Southern California coast is urbanized, so this is really unique,” Kwiatkowski said. “It’s a very small footprint we’re talking about.

“The five months we’re looking at (closing the beach), it’s a colder time period and there isn’t as much activity down there. We’re not talking about closing it in July or August when there’s tremendous tourist activity and summer activity.”

Should the city council vote for the closure, it will still require approval by the Coastal Commission.

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