UPDATED: City Attorney says ‘shared use’ working as La Jolla seal rope reinstalled

Jerry Horna, president pro tem of La Jolla Friends of the Seals, and fellow seal advocate Dr. Jane Reldan, discuss the ongoing conflict at Children’s Pool. Pat Sherman photos
Jerry Horna, president pro tem of La Jolla Friends of the Seals, and fellow seal advocate Dr. Jane Reldan, discuss the ongoing conflict at Children’s Pool. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherma


As city employees prepare to reinstall a rope barrier at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool on Dec. 15, San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is touting what he is calling the success of “shared use” between humans and seals at the Children’s Pool (also known as Casa Beach).

Presently, a 130 linear-foot rope barrier is up only during the seal’s pupping season, through May 15. It provides a path for divers to access the water — while serving as a psychological buffer suggesting that humans should stay away from pregnant seals. (The San Diego City Council and California Coastal Commission have both recommended the rope be 152 feet in length, though a permit was only issued for a 130-foot rope due to a miscalculation by city workers.)

City prevails in seal suits

Superior court Judge Joel Pressman ruled in favor of the City of San diego Nov. 13 in two lawsuits involving the seals at children’s Pool — one filed by seal advocates and another filed by beach access proponents.

In a case filed by seal advocate and attorney Bryan Pease on behalf of the Animal Protection and Rescue League, Pressman declined to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the city to immediately install the rope, prior to pupping season . The animal rights group is challenging the San Diego Planning Commission’s denial of the year-round rope.

In the other case, Pressman granted the city’s request to dismiss a lawsuit requiring it to disperse the seals. David Pierce, Director of the San Diego Council of Divers, said Pressman gave the plaintiff’s attorney 20 days to respond with a brief, which Pierce said will focus on the issue of the public’s right to access the beach for fishing, not to clear the beach of seals.

The court ruled to disburse the seals once before, via methods as diverse as hosing the marine mammals with water to playing amplified recordings of barking dogs. That decision was dismissed when bipartisan state legislation suggested by Goldsmith (AB 428) established children’s Pool as a marine mammal park.

“SB 428 was intended to end legal objections to the city’s policy of shared use (between) humans and seals,” Goldsmith said. “Unfortunately, the lawyers have recently come back hoping to overturn SB 428 and reignite the litigation.”

The 300-foot seawall at children’s Pool, bankrolled by Ellen Browning Scripps in 1931, paved the way for the city to grant the beach in trust to the city as a “bathing pool for children.”

In 2009, SB 428 amended the terms of that trust to “give the (city) council the discretion to create a marine mammal park at the Children’s Pool for the enjoyment and benefit of children,” Goldsmith said in a release.

Meanwhile, people on both side of the issue are holding fast to rulings in their favor.

In 2010 the San Diego City Council ruled in favor of closing the seal rookery during pupping season and installing the rope at Children’s Pool year-round. The later decision was echoed this year by the California Coastal Commission.

However, the San Diego Planning Commission has ruled twice against the year-round, stating that the pupping season rope is sufficient.

Although in his release Goldsmith said Pressman’s rulings “made it clear that under Sb 428 the city council decides how the children’s Pool is to be used,” per the city’s municipal code, “the planning commission has the final say” on the rope barrier.

A spokesman for the city attorney’s office told the


that the city council could “change the law so that for future applications it would have the last word, not the planning commission.”

SB 428 gives “broad discretion” to the city council to determine a use for the children’s Pool, though it “does not set forth a methodology or process. For that, the city must still rely on its municipal ode and other relevant, existing laws and regulations, including the california coastal Act,” the representative said.

Seal shenanigans

According to seal advocate Jane reldan, with the

La Jolla Friends of the Seals

(LJFOTS), La Jolla’s pregnant seals are currently in their third trimester.

Anywhere from 20 to 40 pups are typically birthed during the month of march, though that number is on the rise, said LJFOTS President Pro Tem Jerry Horna.

Meanwhile, Goldsmith said he is hoping bad behavior from adult activists on both sides is on the wane. In the process of ruling on the year-round rope this year, both California Coastal Commissioners and the city’s Planning Commissioners vociferously derided the behavior.

LJFOTS’s immediate past president,

Ellen Shively

, faces charges for spitting in a diver’s face at Children’s Pool last winter.

Pease said Deputy City Attorney Terri Winbush “railroaded” Shively this week into taking a “sham plea for making spitting noises” while being filmed at Children’s Pool by Pierce.

“Ellen apologized for that (behavior),” Reldan said. “She’s taking a sabbatical.”

Despite that outburst, Horna contends that LJFOTS has a strict “

code of conduct

” in place for its docents,who, like himself, started out merely providing information about the marine mammals before controversy erupted.

“We don’t use bullhorns,” Horna said. “One of those things (we tell docents) is ‘don’t yell at people, and if there’s a confrontation, walk away.’”

Beach access advocates who started a Facebook page titled “Flush the Seals” have since changed the name of their page to the more disingenuous “

Marine Mammal Protection Association

” (as if to imply association with the Marine Mammal Protection Act), Reldan noted.

The page, Reldan contends, suggests ways people can cause the seals to flush, or shuffle back into the water — a process which researchers say places undue stress on the animals.

“The rope does not prevent people from coming down to the beach, watching the seals and accessing the water,” reldan said. “There is a need to have the rope because most tourists do not understand that they need to stay away from the seals and not get too close to them.

“The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommended guideline at children’s Pool beach is 50 feet, and that is the distance that people should be keeping from the seals.” NOAA typically suggests people remain 100 feet from seals, though a compromise was made because Children’s Pool is too small to accommodate such a wide berth, Reldan said.