The first step in renewed dialogue between opposing sides on the controversial La Jolla Children’s Pool issue was taken during an informal meeting following a La Jolla Town Council Parks & Beaches Subcommittee session last week.
Mike Forbes, who chairs the beach panel, called the special seal meeting as a private citizen in an attempt to find an alternative other than the courts for solving the divisive issue.
Although there was no resolution or plan for another meeting, the meeting was amicable.
“I would like to see something worked out that would be good for the seals, seal lovers and the businesses that get money from tourists,” he said. “I’d like to find a third way, instead of keeping them there or kicking them out - an out-of-the-box creative solution that would be a win-win for everyone. I want to get people to talk and to try and nudge both sides toward mediation.”
Pro-beach advocate Debbie Beacham said meetings in the past with seals supporters have suggested there is common ground between the two sides.
She said both sides tentatively agreed in the past that it might be fruitful to explore adjusting access to the pool on a seasonal basis, restricting it more during the mammals’ pupping season, but freeing it up during summer and other times when seals are there in smaller numbers.
During Monday’s meeting, Julio DeGuzman representing City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, was present to hear La Jollans’ views on the seal issue. He was there to listen, not comment, though he did read a 10-point statement from Goldsmith.
The statement reiterated that the city has spent millions of dollars in legal costs on this issue and is not taking sides one way or another, but believes the best course is for the City Council to decide whether the marine mammals remain or are dispersed.
It also noted that the city attorney’s office also favored SB428, a bill recently passed by the state legislature making seal habitation an allowable use at Children’s Pool. It is also reiterated the city attorney’s position that the state granted Casa Beach to the city of San Diego to hold in trust, and that, while Ellen Browning Scripps did build the crescent-shaped wall which calmed the pool’s waters, she was not a party to any agreement or trust governing it.
The special meeting on seals was called by chair Forbes but was not sanctioned by the La Jolla Town Council, which favors maintaining the pool as a children’s wading area.
Town Council President Earl Van Inwegen, who attended, noted the pool’s configuration is much different today than it was 80 years ago when it was created.
“Back then only a small part of it was beach, maybe a couple feet,” he said. “It was really a pool and not a beach.”
Melinda Merryweather, a beach-access advocate, said the pool could be cleaned and restored to safe human use if the sluiceways in the wall were opened, the beach were dredged and the pool was restored to its previous more watery condition.
Cindy Benner, president of Friends of La Jolla Seals, a group that operates a docent program educating the public about harbor seals, pointed out seals have a high degree of site fidelity, meaning they return to the place where they were born, a factor making it even harder for them to be dispersed. She added the seal population at Casa Beach i1s static.
“It’s between 180 to 200 animals and has not been expanding,” she noted.