UPDATED: La Jolla advisory groups favor lifeguards’ seal rope compromise


If you go

■ What: Coastal Commission hearing on Children’s Pool rope

■ When: 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 11, 2012

■ Where: Chula Vista City Hall, 276 4th Ave., Chula Vista

■ Contact:

or (415) 407-3211 (line active July 11 only)

Note: During the July 5, 2012 meeting of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, trustees voted to approve a compromise proposal for Children’s Pool (aka Casa Beach), after hearing a presentation from San Diego lifeguard union representative, Ed Harris. The motion, made by Dan Courtney and seconded by Tom Brady, read: “The La Jolla Community Planning Association reaffirms its opposition to a year-round rope barrier at the Children’s Pool and supports La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc.’s action of June 2012 to give the community six months to come forth with reasonable mitigation alternatives for people and seals to share the beach.” The motion passed 12-3-1. About two dozen advocates for the year-round rope barrier favored by the city and California Coastal Commission staff also spoke during the meeting, calling the lifeguards’ movable boulders proposal costly and unrealistic. Trustee Devin Burstein and others said the rope barrier was “illogical,” because boulders would create a more significant physical and psychological barrier.

By Pat Sherman

During the June 25, 2012 meeting of La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc. (LJP&B), the committee considered a compromise to the city’s proposed year-round rope separating humans and seals at Children’s Pool.

Though Coastal Commission staff has recommended approving the city’s request for a coastal development permit to maintain a year-round rope barrier at Children’s Pool, the commissioners must still rule on the issue during their July 11 hearing at Chula Vista City Hall.

The compromise, proposed by San Diego Lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris, in his capacity as a representative for the Teamsters 911 lifeguards’ union, suggests replacing the easily breeched rope with moveable boulders.

The city currently installs a rope barrier at Children’s Pool during the seals’ pupping season, from Dec. 15 through May 15. The compromise calls for replacing the 4-foot high, 152-foot long rope barrier with boulders, which would close off 75 percent of the beach for seals during pupping season, and 25 percent of the beach during summer, when the marine mammals are not as plentiful.

Harris, who has witnessed the evolution of the seal issue during his more than two decades as a lifeguard at Children’s Pool, said a better compromise favoring shared beach use by humans and seals is needed to ease the polarization and tension that has developed in recent years.

“We are opposed to the year-round rope because it’s not going to solve the problem,” Harris said. “It’s going to perpetuate the problem — but we believe in a compromise. ... We respect the seals and think they should have a place to pup and do everything else.”

Though he said people on both sides of the issue are responsible for the ensuing controversy, Harris said seal advocates’ use of bullhorns to assure people don’t stray too close to beach-napping seals is problematic.

“We’re killing our own tourism and nobody has a right to do that,” he said. “We’ve allowed both parties to self-police and be their own enforcement — and that’s where society breaks down. ... You’ve got to lob off the extremes on both sides.”

However, Harris said seal advocates are correct that Children’s Pool beach is currently too contaminated for human use, likening it to a dirty litter box.

“The pollution issue is unbelievable,” he said, noting that the breakwater wall is an unnatural barrier that traps sand and bacteria. “If you walk onto that beach you cannot step one foot without stepping in (seal) poop. ... The litter box is full down there. It has to change.”

The lifeguards’ compromise suggests using city bulldozers to scoop sand off the beach after pupping season and deposit it on the other side of the wall, or further down the coast, where waves will carry it back to sea and cleanse it.

“Cleanup does not require expensive dredging and hauling,” Harris wrote in his plan, a copy of which he also sent to the San Diego City Council for its consideration. “The south swell will clean the sand and replace it.”

The current shared use policy at Children’s Pool, as well as the lifeguard union’s proposal, calls for some year-round access for swimmers and divers.

“Access means the water has to be clean,” Harris said. “Access means that you can’t be harassed on the beach. “

In the end, Parks and Beaches voted to lend its support to the compromise, 13-1-1. Harris, who will present the plan to the Coastal Commission July 11, will request that the commission allow six months for La Jolla stakeholder groups to weigh in on it. The La Jolla Community Planning Association is scheduled to hear the compromise at its next meeting. “Time has passed, and with time some of the passions are wearing down,” Harris said. “I think people who wouldn’t have compromised before are now willing to compromise.”

In other parks, beaches news

WindanSea work:

La Jolla landscape architect Jim Neri received LJP&B approval to proceed with the design of repairs to an s-curve at WindanSea Beach.

The work will be funded by roughly $55,000 from the Friends of WindanSea, and is being facilitated through LJP&B’s nonprofit status.

Previous work at the beach included renovations to benches, the parking lot and beach steps.

“We’ve done a lot, but we haven’t done it all,” Neri said, noting remaining repairs needed for a stretch of sidewalk between Playa del Norte and Playa del Sur, which include replacing rusty chain-link fencing and old wood posts, as well as buttressing the sidewalk where the bluff is eroding. If approved by the city, the work should start sometime around Labor Day, Neri said.

Cove stench:

In response to LJP&B’s request to cleanse foul- smelling bird droppings on rocks at La Jolla Cove, Park and Recreation district manager Dan Daneri said the city had not changed its mind about denying approval of the work — which city staff say poses risks to the ocean environment.

Melinda Merryweather said leaving bird excrement on the rocks carries its own set of health risks to the public.

“We found out that the bird poop does have E. coli (bacteria) in it, and when the big waves come up it washes into the ocean,” she said. “It makes a slick and it gets in your eyes, ears and mouth, so it is dangerous.”

Triathlon challenge:

LJP&B also lent approval to the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s 19th annual San Diego Triathlon Challenge, scheduled for Oct. 21 in La Jolla.

The event, which would require the closure of Coast Boulevard and take up a portion of Ellen Browning Scripps Park, offers athletic competition for people with physical challenges such as spinal cord injuries. For more, visit