Vote for Pool ranger the best solution

By Sherri Lightner

Council member, District 1

As your representative for Council District 1, and as an 18-year resident of La Jolla, I have studied the Children’s Pool issue carefully and held several forums and meetings to understand the community’s feelings and concerns about its future management.

As a result of a court ruling in November 2009 and a new state law, the seals can stay, and the City of San Diego can decide how to manage the Children’s Pool.

On Monday, the San Diego City Council will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. at Sherwood Auditorium in the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla, to discuss management options for this beach.

The city’s current joint-use policy for the Children’s Pool was adopted in 2004 and continues today. The policy allows both people and seals to access the beach year round. The city has obtained a Coastal Development Permit from the Coastal Commission that allows a guideline rope to be placed across the beach each year during pupping season from Dec. 15 to May 15 to discourage people from getting too close to the seals.

The city attorney says the city is under no legal obligation to modify the existing policy. There has been no request from any city department or from the La Jolla community to take any action to change the current joint-use policy. Nor does the mayor’s office support any changes to the policy.

There is no evidence that any seal has ever been harmed at Children’s Pool by citizens using the beach under the joint-use policy. In addition, according to the police department, incidents at the Children’s Pool have significantly decreased since the new State law took effect on January 1, 2010.

The adopted City Council policy of joint-use protects the seals and ensures public access to the water, but costs money for police and lifeguard intervention because a “people problem” persists at the Children’s Pool. Citizens who want to use the beach in a lawful and respectful manner feel they are being wrongly harassed by people who are there to “protect” the seals. Meanwhile, citizens who are there to “protect” the seals feel that, without their vigilance, harm could come to the seals.

My plan to address this “people problem” is to seek private funding for a city park ranger whose primary duty would be to patrol the Children’s Pool. The ranger would be responsible for ensuring the joint-use policy is followed by all visitors to the Children’s Pool. In addition, the Ranger would train and supervise a city-sanctioned volunteer docent program, which would enlist local residents to inform and instruct the public on the city’s joint-use policy at the Children’s Pool.

The presence of a city ranger, coupled with the volunteer docent program, involving citizens who are trained and screened by the City, will address the “people problem” at the Children’s Pool. The ranger program could be implemented quickly upon City Council approval and at no additional cost to taxpayers, with the added benefit that police and lifeguards will be able to focus on other public safety issues.

Recently, both the La Jolla Parks and Beaches Committee and the La Jolla Community Planning Association voted to support the implementation of the Ranger program.

Other options being considered by the City Council include a complete beach closure each year during pupping season and a request for an emergency Coastal Development Permit to keep the rope barrier up year round. Both these options will be costly to taxpayers (with minimum cost estimates of $30,000 to $40,000 for each) and take a minimum of 3 to 5 years to pursue.

Before attempting such a costly and lengthy endeavor, which may ultimately be unsuccessful and, if successful, may lead to more litigation, I urge my colleagues and the community to support the ranger program first, and reevaluate the situation at the Children’s Pool after the program has been implemented.

There are additional issues, such as water quality, sand cleanings, mitigation for traffic and parking impacts, predation, and the need for a policy to prevent seal colonization on other beaches, that need to be addressed in the future, and I will continue to work with the community on developing a long-range management plan for the coast that will include the Children’s Pool.

We need to proceed with a plan that makes sense for the local community and addresses the reality of the current laws, rules and regulations. I am asking for your support. Please attend the May 17 council hearing, or contact every City Council member in advance to share your input on the future use of the Children’s Pool.