Fixing a Hole at La Jolla's 'seal beach'

La Jolla Town Council listens to ins and outs of opening Children’s Pool seawall sluiceways

They’ve been referred to as “sluiceways,” “sluicegates” and, in one City of San Diego report, “underdrains.”

By any name beach access advocates are again urging city officials to open these four, long-sealed rectangle openings in the south end of the seawall (breakwater) at Children’s Pool/Casa Beach. Opening the sluiceways is one proposed method of cleaning and removing excess sand there contaminated by nearly two decades of excrement from the seal colony (a remedy largely favored by beach access advocates).

During its Oct. 9 meeting, the La Jolla Town Council (LJTC) considered pros and cons of the proposal, as presented by coastal access advocate Melinda Merryweather, and countered by Adrian Kwiatkowski, executive director of the Seal Conservancy of San Diego (formerly Friends of the La Jolla Seals).

Beach access advocates — including members of the group Friends of the Children’s Pool and the La Jolla Parks and Beaches (LJP&B) city advisory group — are emboldened to move forward with their request by the California Coastal Commission’s (CCC) August vote to close Children’s Pool beach entirely during the seals’ five-month pupping season (Dec. 15-May 15).

As part of its approval, commissioner Martha McClure added a condition that the City of San Diego study the feasibility of cleaning the water and sand at Children’s Pool — possibly by dredging the beach or opening the sluiceways to flush the sand.

“The children are welcome now at the pool, and actually get it for seven months, (but) we can’t ask these children to play in the sand, to make castles in the sand. It’s a cesspool,” Merryweather said, noting that she first asked the city to open the sluiceways 23 years ago. Repeated requests made by her and LJP&B have fallen on deaf ears, she said.

Merryweather, a member of LJP&B, said the group is asking the city to open the sluiceways “sooner than later.”

“I would like to see it done by May 15 (2015), when the children are allowed to return for seven months,” she said.

However, Kwiatkowski noted that the CCC’s directive to the city was to study the feasibility of cleaning the sand and water (and providing access for people with disabilities) during a five-year pilot pupping season closure, then report its findings to the commission at that time.

Just as with the Seal Conservancy’s proposal to close the beach during pupping season, a proposal to open the sluiceways would have to make its way through the city’s “rigorous, multi-year” approval process, receiving buy-in from the city’s development services department and planning commission, city council, mayor, coastal commission staff and, finally, the CCC itself, Kwiatkowski said.

Merryweather noted a 1989 feasibility study conducted by Testing Engineers-San Diego, which showed the sluiceways (now largely buried beneath decades of sand buildup) could be opened with the assistance of divers using underwater cutting equipment on the ocean side of the wall. The report noted that care must be taken to prevent disrupting red, silty sand material on the inside of the wall, which, if disrupted, could undermine the wall’s integrity. At the time, opening the sluiceways was estimated to cost just shy of $30,300.

“We all paid for this study as taxpayers,” Merryweather said. “They had the money for it … from transient occupancy taxes, they were going to open the sluiceways, resurface the top of the wall and replace the railings and they never did it.” (A city report shows a portion of the handrail was replaced prior to 2003).

Kwiatkowski said more than a decade after the city’s last assessment of the wall (2003), it is in sorry shape.

“It’s unlikely that the structural integrity of that wall today would survive reopening the sluiceways,” he opined.

Kwiatkowski noted that Hiram Savage, the engineer hired by the late La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps to construct the wall, had the sluiceways sealed off in March 1931, two months before the wall was completed.

“He and his engineers noticed that the sand level of the pool constantly fluctuated with the ebb and flow of the tide when the sluiceways were open,” Kwiatkowski said, noting Savage’s further observation that “ ‘a strong suction pool caused by the water running in the sluiceways and then receding made it difficult for the pool to have an even sandbar.’ ”

Kwiatkowski said opening the sluiceways would wash away the beach that Merryweather and others so cherish. “You can’t have it both ways,” he said.

Although Merryweather and several others at the meeting noted that it was Scripps’ expressed intent that the beach be used for the benefit of children (codified when the state deeded the wall back to the city in the 1930s), Kwiatkowski and Seal Conservancy treasurer Jane Reldan mirrored the sentiment of coastal commissioner Dayna Bochco, who in August noted that times and the use of the beach have changed since the 1930s.

“Nature doesn’t always follow humans’ desires,” Kwiatkowski said. “You have the only beach south of Ventura County on the California mainland where seals give birth to their pups. … I think that’s something that we should be protecting and applauding, and not trying to undermine.”

In other Town Council news

More money for Children’s Pool Walk: Phyllis Minick, the dynamo behind the Children’s Pool Walk beautification project that once seemed like it had only a dismal chance of being funded, reported the possibility of receiving substantial, additional city money to complete the project.

Reading an e-mail from the city’s assistant director of Park and Recreation, Andy Field, Minick noted that the Park and Rec department has “requested and been preliminarily approved for (more than) $360,000 in La Jolla development impact fees for the Children’s Pool Walk project.”

Field’s e-mail went on to explain that the “funds will be reviewed over the next few months and, if all goes well, will go before the city council for approval early next year.”

The city has already approved $75,000 for the project, which also received a pledge of $200,000 from La Jollan Tom Morgan.

Field’s e-mail also noted potential city funding on the horizon for the restroom replacement at La Jolla Cove known as the La Jolla Cove Pavilion project.

“This is, I think, such a delight for this community if all this goes as spoken of — and you never know — but if it does our entire downtown Coast Boulevard will be improved,” Minick chimed.

Town Council to host crew of USS La Jolla: LJTC President Steve Haskins noted that the group’s next Sunsetter event will be an invitation-only reception for the crew of the USS La Jolla nuclear fast-attack submarine, 5:45-9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21 at La Jolla Woman’s Club, 7791 Draper Ave. The Kiwanis Club of La Jolla is co-sponsoring the event.

After 33 years La Jolla’s namesake ship is being decommissioned, making its final voyage from its base in Pearl Harbor to the East Coast, with a stop in San Diego.

The event will include a bar, appetizers by Girard Gourmet, a live funk band and a chance to meet some of the crew.

The cost is $20. Those who would like to attend but do not have an invitation should contact or call (619) 571-7436.

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