Commissioners on July 11 granted the city’s request to extend the visual guideline rope that is put in place from Dec. 15 to May 15 during the marine mammals’ pupping season for the rest of the year. But commissioners denied the city’s request to be absolved of legal liability for the pool.
In rendering their decision however, commissioners expressed doubt that having a year-round rope will resolve the longstanding dispute between pro-seal and pro-beach-access factions over the city’s shared-use policy at the pool.
“I don’t believe anyone on this dais believes a rope is a solution to this problem,” said commissioner Dr. William A. Burke following more than two hours of public testimony for and against the year-round barrier.
Likening the squabble over shared use at the pool to reality-TV shows, Burke quipped, “Why use a rope? Just draw a line in the sand: Save on the nylon.”
“The (pool) wall is the problem,” Burke said. “It’s caused a division in your community that should not be there.”
Commissioner Jana Zimmer agreed.
“The bigger problem is the way people have engaged with each other,” she said, adding “the rope barrier is not going to be the ultimate solution.”
Children’s Pool is a manmade pocket beach originally built in 1931 by Ellen Browning Scripps, who funded construction of a crescent-shaped breakwater creating a safe wading pool for children. It became a de facto seal rookery in the 1990s after seals began congregating there in larger numbers, using the beach to breed and haul out while fouling the pool’s shallow waters with their waste.
For several years, shared-use had been the status quo at Children’s Pool, with the rope up during the marine mammals’ winter-spring breeding season, and down in the summer-fall when people use the pool more and seals less.
But co-existence has proven difficult. Ongoing high-profile confrontations continue between pro-seal advocates — who feel pinnipeds need to be protected year-round from harassment by people with a guideline rope — and swimmers, divers and fishermen who insist the rope barrier denies their right guaranteed in the state constitution to unfettered public-beach access.
Seal advocates were elated by the commission’s decision, believing a year-round rope was overdue.
“The commissioners did the right thing because the rope really works when people use common sense, and the cautionary signs are prominently displayed,” said Ellen Shively, president of La Jolla Friends of Seals. “The City Council authorized the year-round rope back in 2010 to solve the problems at the beach. It is time their decision was implemented. While the commission’s consent to allow the year-round rope is not the final solution … it is a step in the right direction.”
Attorney Bryan Pease of the Animal Protection & Rescue League concurred with Shively, but cautioned progress toward getting the rope up is slow.
“The CCC decision was expected, as there was no legal reason to deny the permit requested by the City Council and mayor,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is the Planning Commission still has to sign off on the site development permit. When they denied it last time, I sued and won. So they will approve it, but not until August, and the city apparently won’t put the rope back up until then. In the meantime, thousands of tourists are walking right up to seals, trying to pet them, and driving them off the beach by getting too close.”
Beach-access proponents felt the city, and coastal commissioners, erred in sanctioning a year-round Children’s Pool rope.
“The (Children’s Pool) trust was intended to span generations and survive the whims of political favoritism,” testified Ken Hunrichs of Friends of the Children’s Pool, a group that, since 2004, has been advocating freer access by ocean-user groups, during the Coastal Commission hearing. “Children’s Pool has become the tarnished jewel of La Jolla besieged by activists and neglected by the city. We need to restore wise management.”
“I think [the city is] in a big fix now,” said longtime La Jollan Melinda Merryweather after the Coastal Commission hearing. “They don’t really know what to do, and they’re trying to push it off on the Coastal Commission.”
But Merryweather noted there’s some “wiggle room” in the commission’s decision to favor the rope barrier because “it’s not up forever, but for a three-year period, and it’s probably not going up for another six months.”
At the July 11 Coastal Commission hearing in Chula Vista, San Diego lifeguard union representative Ed Harris discussed a rope counterproposal involving movable artificial boulders that could be used instead, which would look more natural and work better in terms of separating the two species.
Stacy LoMedico, city Park and Recreation director, testified she was unaware of the lifeguard’s new plan for shared-use at Children’s Pool.
Commissioners seemed receptive to the lifeguard’s counter plan, noting it would afford an opportunity for polarized sides to come together to craft a compromise promoting shared use at the pool that is fair and agreeable to all involved.