The Planning Commission’s decision on amending La Jolla’s community plan to allow seasonal beach closure of Children’s Pool will now be forwarded to the San Diego City Council for a final vote on the issue, likely in early 2014.
Prior to the commission vote, pro-beach access proponents unsuccessfully requested the decision to close the beach entirely for seal pupping season be deferred for several months to allow more time for development of an alternative proposal by lifeguards to create a physical barrier separating humans from seals while allowing beach access to both.
In rendering its decision, planning commissioners expressed frustration over the inability of parties concerned to reach a compromise agreement guaranteeing harmonious shared-use between humans and pinnipeds at the popular pool.
Noting this was the “ninth or 10th” time he’d heard the Children’s Pool use debated, commissioner and La Jolla architect Tim Golba said he’d previously received assurances that “there was no way full closure (of the beach) would ever happen.”
“And here we are today,” Golba said. “I can’t support a community plan amendment that goes against everything in that document as far as beach access goes.”
Commissioner Michael Smiley asked why Dec. 15 to May 15 had been chosen as the target dates for Children’s Pool closure. City staffer Morris Dye replied those dates have been generally recognized as the start and end of pupping season, adding, “It’s a date we can’t hang our hat on. It isn’t precise.”
Smiley made his position clear.
“Denying access to the beach, I’m not for that,” said Smiley.
Commissioner Stephen Haase said he would like to see greater flexibility in the policy of prohibiting public access to the beach, while commissioner Anthony Wagner voiced concern that if the commission were to vote for the seasonal pool closure, the issue “will come back to us again.”
Other commissioners also expressed frustration.
“There’s been bad behavior on both sides,” said commission chairman Eric Naslund, who said he couldn’t understand why a “real barrier between people and pinnipeds” can’t somehow be devised.
“That’s the most logical step for getting to the true intention of joint use,” he said, expressing concern that the lifeguard’s counterproposal for doing exactly that “hasn’t been more fully vetted.”
The public testified both for and against the seasonal beach closure.
Supporters of the closure claimed it is well documented that some humans can’t resist the temptation to harass seals even with a rope barrier separating them, and that temporary beach closure is the only solution.
Opponents testified that access to public beaches is a right guaranteed by the state constitution. One pro-beach access proponent carried that argument one step further, saying closing the beach to human contact even part of the year could constitute a violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws guaranteeing equal access by the disabled to public amenities.
“Don’t be swayed by the ADA argument,” countered attorney Bryan Pease of the Animal Protection and Rescue League. “That’s an entirely separate issue from restricting beach access to humans during the sensitive time of the seals’ pupping season while they’re nursing and raising their young.”
La Jollan Mike Costello testified that harbor seals are a thriving and expanding population and that added efforts like closing Children’s Pool to protect them are totally unwarranted.
“The public has a clear constitutional statutory and public trust right to access this beach,” said diver John Leek. “Violating that trust is not only unwise — it’s prohibited.”
Still others were just anxious to get to a resolution, whatever that may be.
“The time is right to end intermittent solutions and move to a permanent solution,” said La Jolla community planner Joe LaCava. “The seals aren’t going anywhere.”