Stench may be ebbing but battle brews again over seal-pupping barrier
by DAVE SCHWAB
Feb 24, 2014 | 4307 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Cove stench from seal and bird droppings that has plagued some visitors and nearby business owners for some time may have dissipated because of natural tidal flushing or the city’s recent decision to allow humans to encroach onto the bluffs — perhaps even both. COURTESY PHOTO
The Cove stench from seal and bird droppings that has plagued some visitors and nearby business owners for some time may have dissipated because of natural tidal flushing or the city’s recent decision to allow humans to encroach onto the bluffs — perhaps even both. COURTESY PHOTO
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Though foul smells at the Cove emanating from sea lion and bird droppings appears to have abated, the City Council is preparing to grapple Feb. 24 with another pinniped matter — the divisive issue of whether to prohibit public access to Children’s Pool Beach during harbor-seal pupping season.

Reports from lifeguards, District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s office and the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) indicate the problem with persistent foul smells from the Cove has subsided — at least for now.

However, it’s difficult to determine if that change can be attributed to a new weeks-old city policy allowing humans out onto the bluffs, discouraging marine mammal haul-outs, or whether it can be chocked up to seasonal factors like winter marine-mammal migration or natural tidal flushing.

“We’ve heard from some of the Village merchants that allowing access to the bluffs has helped [with the smell],” said Jill Esterbrooks, a spokesperson for Lightner.  “In addition, the high tides and rains [in January] also served as a natural flush of the area.”

Esterbrooks said the city is “evaluating conditions daily and is ready to hire a contractor should there be a need for additional clean-up efforts at The Cove.”

Lifeguard chief Rick Wurts agreed noxious odors from the Cove appear to have decreased.

“The sea lions were part of that, but there are also issues with the birds, as well,” Wurts said. “There are fewer birds and sea lions in that area right now.”

Wurts believes the smell situation has improved for a variety of reasons.

“It’s my understanding sea lions go out to the Channel Islands to spend the winter,” he said. “We’ve also had some pretty high surf for awhile, which has contributed to a flushing of that area. Those things have all probably contributed to making the smell less.”

Though Cove smells may be in remission, “It’s not going to be handled and then be over. It’s definitely going to be an ongoing issue,” said La Jolla Village Merchants Association executive director Sheila Fortune.

Fortune said she hasn’t heard any further complaints about smells from restaurateur George Hauer or the La Valencia Hotel, two merchants who collaborated on the filing of a lawsuit against the city weeks ago alleging it was local government’s responsibility to abate Cove stench problems.

“The city is monitoring [the smell], though they have no schedule of any other treatments at the moment,” Fortune said. “They are on call and ready to go if it’s necessary to do more treatments.”

Meanwhile, the City Council will again soon be dealing with the vexing issue of whether to close La Jolla’s Children’s Pool between Dec. 15 and May 15 annually to protect harbor seals from human harassment during pupping season.

In December 2014, the city Planning Commission balked at completely closing off Children’s Pool, voting 4-3 not to prohibit human habitation of the beach during harbor seal pupping season.

La Jolla architect Tim Golba, a planning commissioner, has expressed frustration that it’s taking so long to achieve shared-use of Children’s Pool.

“It is unfortunate that a long-term solution to cohabitation of the Children’s Pool has not been brought forward,” Golba said. “There should be a way to expand upon the lifeguard proposal or some mechanism that could ideally be a key to cohabitation by both the seals and humans and has the ability to be seasonably regulated or adjusted to each parties’ demands and use.

“Ideally, this solution would also push forward a solution to the lack of ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) access, as well,” he said. “Given that we can afford to spend $3.8 million on a lifeguard tower in La Jolla Shores, it would seem adequate funding could be sourced to develop a solution where both humans and seals win instead of lawyers in perpetual lawsuits that never resolve the underlying shared-use issue.”

The lifeguard proposal suggests “faux boulders,” or some other more natural-appearing landform other than the rope barrier traditionally used to separate humans from seals, could be devised and shifted seasonally to safeguard the animals and assure peaceful shared use at the pool.

Attorney and animal-rights activist Bryan Pease, who has been battling in court for years to get greater protection for seals from humans and to get Children’s Pool closed off to human access during the marine mammals’ five-month pupping season, said the City Council’s Feb. 24 vote could be the last say on the matter.

“The upcoming vote is the final vote the council needs to take on this issue,” Pease said. “The council voted 7-2 in 2010 to close the rookery for pupping season in conformity with other cities’ sound management practices along the coast. Only Lightner and Young voted against. This vote upcoming is just to approve the LCP amendment that was called for by that first vote. So it’s not moving in circles but actually moving forward exactly as planned, albeit at a slow pace.”

The City Council was expected to meet at 2 p.m. on Feb. 24 in Council Chambers on the 12th Floor of the City Administration Building, 202 C St. in downtown San Diego.
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