San Diego City Council members heard public opinion Jan. 26 before heading into closed session with San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith in an effort to decide the future of the harbor seal colony at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool. But after discussing the matter, council members voted to bring the item — which would alter the wording of La Jolla’s Children’s Pool state tidelands grant to include wildlife viewing among its uses — to an open session, said Michelle Ganon, communications director for San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso of District 8.
“They took a vote to bring it to open session … to have an open session discussion,” Ganon said, adding that there’s no official council date set.
Bryan Pease, the Animal Protection and Rescue League’s (APRL) SealWatch attorney, said that about 40 citizens gathered in front of the council in support of the group’s ongoing campaign to send legislation to Sacramento that would change a 1931 state land grant, adding seal watching to the Children’s Pool’s list of allowable uses. But the council must pass the resolution that would call for California State Senator Christine Kehoe to draft the legislation by the end of February, Pease said.
“The deadline for Kehoe to sponsor legislation is February 27,” Pease said. “So it would have to be [passed] during one of the February council meetings, assuming that Kehoe could turn around and sponsor something in time.”
Members of the California State Lands Commission said they would aid Kehoe in drafting the legislation – a Senate Bill, Pease said. But Kehoe said she wanted local support, so Pease met with the council to draft the resolution in an effort to settle ongoing court disputes regarding the Children’s Pool.
Pease asked the council to sponsor a resolution amending the 1931 state tidelands grant that he said would prohibit a state judge from forcing the city of San Diego to hire a full-time “seal chaser” and dredge sand from the Children’s Pool beach.
“The state court judge has taken on the role of a legislative body. He has taken on the role of this body,” Pease said. “The state court ordered the city to dredge the beach even though it will erode the cliffs, and the judge has ordered the city to hire a full-time seal chaser to go out there and scare off the seals.”
A federal judge recently granted the seals a temporary reprieve during the remainder of the colony’s pupping season — in 2008, Judge William Q. Hayes overruled a state court decision that banned a guideline rope meant to protect the seal colony during their “pupping season.” But Pease said a more permanent solution would involve amending the 1931 tidelands grant. The grant allows many uses at the Children’s Pool, from swimming to playing. But Pease said some judges began misinterpreting the tidelands grant, and a previous 2005 court ruling by Judge William Pate, to incorrectly read that no seals are allowed.
“First Pate took an extreme interpretation of the 1931 law. Then Judge Hoffman took a more extreme interpretation of Pate’s [ruling]. This is a constant exaggeration of the law,” Pease said. “This is why the state needs to amend the law to clarify its meaning.”
According to Pease, state judges began misinterpreting the law when Pate ruled that the city should dredge the sand.
“Even Pate saying you have to remove the sand buildup, that’s not in the 1931 order,” Pease said. “Judge Pate never said you have to disperse the seals.
“[Judge Hoffman] was on the verge of hiring someone to go down there to scare off the seals because of his reading of the 1931 state land grant that did not include the seals.”
Pease told council members his solution would end court battles and save the city millions in dredging fees.
“We didn’t have the Marine Mammal Protection Act back then and we built the seal wall on a rookery,” Pease said. “But the only way is for the state legislature to add wildlife habitat or marine mammal habitat as a permissible use.”
For more information about both sides of the Children’s Pool issue, visit www.childrenspool.org or www.friendsofthechildrens
pool.com, www.aprl.org or www.aprl.org/seals.html.