Status of seals at La Jolla Children’s Pool in limbo



City News Service

Will the seals at Children’s Pool in La Jolla be forced to find a new home, or will they be allowed to stay?

At one point Monday it seemed as if the seals were sure to be evicted. A judge gave the city of San Diego 72 hours to comply with a court order to remove the colony of harbor seals from Children’s Pool, restoring the area to its 1941 pre-seal condition.

But then late Monday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure giving control of Children’s Pool back to the city of San Diego, and some City Hall watchers believe the City Council leans toward allowing the seals to remain undisturbed at the site.

Whether the court’s 72-hour order will remain in effect or be changed due to the new law may not be clear at least until today - or maybe later.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Assistant City Attorney for Civil Litigation Andrew Jones may provide some clarity when they hold a scheduled news briefing today.

Responding to the earlier court order Monday, Jones told Judge Yuri Hofmann that the city will rely on an acoustical system using the sounds of barking dogs to shoo the seals away from the beach.

That was before the governor responded to a request from Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, to expedite signing of the Children’s Pool measure.

The Children’s Pool, also known as Casa Beach, is protected by a sea wall built through a gift by the late philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. The beach was given to the city on the condition that it maintain it exclusively as a public park and swimming area.

Kehoe’s new law amends a 1931 trust that designated the beach as a bathing area for children only, to also allow for a marine mammal habitat. Thus the City Council could apparently decide to allow the seals to remain.

Responding to the earlier court order Monday, Jones said the dog-barking plan to rid the beach of the seals - at a cost of an estimated $688,000 - will require a person walking up and down the beach to make sure the animals are gone. He said some experts believe the process could be never-ending.

“We’ll do what is necessary to get rid of the seals, as best we can,’’ Jones said outside court Monday. “We certainly can’t do anything that will physically harm them.’’

That was before the governor signed the new law about seals at Children’s Pool. Any plan that the city uses to rid the area of seals must comply with environmental regulations, Jones said.

Kehoe expressed appreciation to the governor for signing the Children’s Pool bill into law and said she’s optimistic it will help settle the controversy.

“Our community has struggled through this debate for more than 16 years and now the future use of the Children’s Pool rests with the San Diego City Council - as it rightfully should,’’ she said.

Paul Kennerson, the attorney for plaintiff Valerie O’Sullivan, said the time for the city to act is now.

“If the city of San Diego had done what is was supposed to do from 1930 to 1994, when this problem started building up - for a very few dollars - the damage would not have been done, the beach would not have been fouled, the place would have been preserved in the state if was supposed to be preserved in,’’ Kennerson said. “The city has to obey the law.’’

Supporters of the seals have sought an emergency injunction to temporarily block Hofmann’s ruling.

“This is a treasure for the state of California,’’ said Ginny Uybungco of Friends of the La Jolla Seals. “In this one speck of the universe, they have one beach in (Southern California) to rear their pups and raise their pups.

“Because this is not just about the swimming, it’s about everybody who comes to visit the seals. And if there are no seals, we have no tourists,’’ Uybungco said.

A Superior Court judge in 2005 ordered San Diego to restore Children’s Pool to its pre-seal condition by dredging the beach to reduce the bacteria levels caused by seal excrement.

Hofmann ruled in May that the law requires the removal and dispersal of the seals from the area.