Some community planners ready to cede fight over access to La Jolla Children’s Pool

Chris Zirkle with the San Diego Park and Recreation Department’s Open Space Division said seal haul-out sites in California are commonly designated as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas to protect the marine mammals. The Children’s Pool is considered a seal rookery (or birthing place), and even more sensitive, he said.

By Pat Sherman

Though the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) has repeatedly voiced its opposition to restricting human access at Children’s Pool beach (aka Casa Beach), several members at the group’s May 2 meeting said they are ready to give up the fight and allow the city to designate the beach exclusively for seals.

“I think it’s a

fait accompli

,” said LJCPA trustee Ray Weiss of the city’s plan to close the beach day and night during the seals’ winter pupping season — and possibly year-round.

Weiss noted both federal and state laws that support Mayor Bob Filner’s plan to close the beach Dec. 15-May 15, and to dissuade access by installing a rope barrier across the beach during summer (like that currently in place during winter months).

La Jollan Carol Archibald argues that the city should declare Children’s Pool beach an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, which she said is consistent with the California Coastal Act.

The city has proposed amending the La Jolla Community Plan and accompanying Local Coastal Program to establish an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA) at Children’s Pool beach. The amendment would prohibit access to the ESHA during the seals’ pupping season. The city has requested that the California Coastal Commission issue a coastal development permit for the installation of closure signs and a chain barrier at the bottom of the cement staircase leading to the beach.

Chris Zirkle, a deputy manager with the San Diego Park and Recreation Department’s Open Space Division, said an ESHA is any area lying within California’s coastal zone containing “especially rare or valuable resources” that can be “easily disturbed or degraded by human activities.”

The city has issued a draft negative declaration on the project, a document basically stating that the closure will have no significant impact on the environment.

During the meeting LJCPA trustees voted 8-5-1 to reject the negative declaration and request the city produce a full environmental impact report (EIR) on its proposed beach closure.

Visually frustrated, LJCPA Vice-chair Joe LaCava explained his decision to support the negative declaration and not request an EIR. “I’m tired of this conversation,” LaCava said. “The dominoes have been falling for quite some time. ... It’s time for us to move on; we fought a good fight.”

Though LaCava said he believes “the city didn’t step up and do its job” by taking steps to remove the seals when the mammals started to colonize the beach in the 1990s, he said seals have nevertheless taken over. “They own it,” LaCava said. “We’re never going to get that (beach) cleaned up.”

City of San Diego project manager Jihad Sleiman said it is not likely the city will alter the color scheme of the new Children’s Pool lifeguard tower, despite concerns from many at the May 2 LJCPA meeting that the current colors are different than those originally presented to the community.

LaCava said the LJCPA should instead urge the city to protect the rest of La Jolla’s beaches from colonization through further amendments to the community plan.

“I would hope the folks that are in support of the rookery and the environmentally sensitive habitat area ... for the Children’s Pool would join us and encourage the city to ... promise they will not allow any colonization to happen at South Casa, the Cove, La Jolla Shores or anywhere else,” LaCava said, drawing applause from seal advocates who came to speak in favor of the beach closure.

“Enough is enough,” LaCava said. “I appreciate the people that have been fighting for years and years (to keep the beach open to people), but I want you to go do something else. There are other things to be saved in the world.”

Trustee Fran Zimmerman concurred with LaCava, decrying the “vitriol and viciousness” the issue has spawned through the years.

“This is not on the table, but I certainly agree that we need to start to come together to deal with some of the real issues,” she said. Weiss noted legislation passed in 2009 allowing the San Diego City Council to establish Children’s Pool beach exclusively for use as a marine mammal sanctuary. “I think the people in this room, as passionate as they are about the subject, ought to be realistic about that,” Weiss said.

However, trustee David Little urged his board colleagues not to cede their fight just yet, and protect the community plan.

Karen Visin, owner of a WindanSea property on which two arguably historic cottages are located, wants to demolish the structures to build duplexes. Visin said her neighbors are arguing for the cottages’ historicity when she suspects they are actually concerned about a potential loss of views. LJCPA Chair Tony Crisafi looks on.

“The only thing we have is our laws and our rules,” Little said. “Ray is probably right — we’re going to have seals forever, but we shouldn’t change our community plan.”

Trustee Janie Emerson said she is concerned that altering the community plan via a “quick decision” would “set a huge precedent.” “For me, that issue transcends the seals,” she said.

Tom Brady said the community has suggested other changes to the planning document that the city has been reluctant to adopt.

“The work and effort that have gone into it by our entire community groups is just so considerable to try and change it in a vote,” Brady said. “I think this is a mistake.”

Discussion of whether to reject amendments to the La Jolla Community Plan and Local Coastal Program was tabled until the June LJCPA meeting to provide more time for discussion.

Zirkle said the city would next seek a recommendation from the Planning Commission for the proposed amendments, which must ultimately be approved by the California Coastal Commission, though he said they are “consistent with the Coastal Act.”

In other LJCPA news

Costebelle appeal ratified:

Trustees voted to approve an appeal filed by LJCPA President Tony Crisafi of the city’s decision to exempt a long-stalled residential development at 7940 Costebelle Way in La Jolla Shores from further environmental review. The property owner is seeking to add a third story that would include an art studio, bedroom, living room and kitchen.

Demo permit appealed:

The LJCPA also voted to appeal the city’s decision to approve an coastal development permit for the demolition of two Tudor Revival-style cottages on Playa Del Sur in WindanSea.

The La Jolla Historical Society has argued that the cottages are historic, while the city’s Historical Resources Board has said there have been too many changes to the cottages over the years, which constitute a “loss of integrity” that diminished their historic value.

Mike Costello said the Development Permit Review (DPR) committee has requested that the authors of “two conflicting historic reports” return to the DPR to argue their points before that committee makes a recommendation.

Tim Lucas questioned whether the city should invest millions in a new lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool beach when it is concurrently working to close that beach to protect the seals. Trusteen Nancy Manno makes sure speakers don't excede their time.
Tim Lucas questioned whether the city should invest millions in a new lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool beach when it is concurrently working to close that beach to protect the seals. Trusteen Nancy Manno makes sure speakers don't excede their time.

During the meeting the property owner, Karen Visin, said the city denied the historic designation in 2010, and that she believes the time to appeal that decision and the environmental determination has passed.

Children’s Pool Lifeguard Tower:

The city also presented final designs for the new $3.2 million lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool beach to the LJCPA.

City of San Diego project manager Jihad Sleiman said residents in the immediate vicinity of the project will be notified of the project start date, though the city is scheduled to demolish the existing, condemned lifeguard tower next month.

Former LJCPA trustee Tim Lucas questioned whether the city should invest more money to build the tower, given that it plans to close Children’s Pool beach.

“I think the city needs to maybe put the breaks on this for a couple months and try to figure out which direction this beach is going in,” Lucas said. “It’s millions of dollars at stake here.”

However, John Leek said the new tower is needed because lifeguards survey a total of five beaches from it, and also offer paramedic services to pedestrians along Coast Boulevard.