After more than 60 speakers and hours of testimony, the California Coastal Commission voted Wednesday to approve a year-round rope barrier at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla.
The city of San Diego applied for a year-round permit to install and maintain a 4-foot high, 152 linear foot rope barrier with a 3 foot opening for ocean access at the Children’s Pool as a buffer between humans and harbor seals. The city currently erects a rope barrier during the winter months for pupping season of seals that make the small beach their home. The Coastal Commission approved the permit unanimously.
Commissioner William Burke said he voted for the year-round rope despite the fact that he does not believe a single person thinks the rope is the solution to the beach access and marine mammal protection debate at the Children’s Pool. “I am going to vote going for the rope, but I am going to tell you this, as long as I am here I am never going to vote for one improvement on that (sea)wall because that wall is the problem," he said. It has caused a division in your community. Good people on both sides are not acting like it. The seals are going to be fine; it is the people that have the problem.”
Commissioner Jana Zimmer said she agreed that the real problem is the people involved.
“We are not in the position to solve those problems," she said. "I do think that the rope barrier is not going to be the ultimate solution. I am really concerned that we have a monitoring program for the harassment of seals, but there is no way for us to implement a monitoring program for the conditions of harassment of people on people.”
Speakers at the Coastal Commission meeting in Chula Vista showed videos of both marine mammal advocates and beach access advocates interacting negatively towards each other. One video showed an individual spitting on a diver accessing the beach. And yet another video showed seal advocates yelling at individuals on the beach.
Yet, more than eight hours after the meeting started, the Coastal Commission unanimously approved the year-round rope barrier.
A representative from Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego), who is running for mayor, expressed support of a year-round rope at the meeting. He said the rope provides a “clear indicator” to both locales and visitors on a safe distance to keep from the seals and enjoy the beaches.
The Regional Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Region also supported a year-round rope.
“NMFS supports the City’s application to install and maintain a rope barrier a year-round at CPB, with some reservations, as maintenance of the guideline rope does not ensure that harbor seals will not harassed,” Rodney McInnis said in a letter to the Coastal Commission. McInnis added that NMFS recommends the public to maintain a distance from any seal, regardless of where they are regarding the guideline rope. At most haul out sites, the NMFS recommends 100 feet, however it recommends 50 feet at the Children’s Pool because of the small 0.7 acre sit size.
Jane Rendan, a La Jolla resident and volunteer La Jolla Friends of the Seals, presented nearly 1,400 signatures in support of a yearlong rope at the Coastal Commission meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Donna Frye, former San Diego City Council member, said the rope accommodates “all users” of the Children’s Pool.
“I know it is going to get emotions, but I hope at the end of the day you support your staff’s recommendation,” she said.
There was also numerous individuals and organizations that opposed the year-round rope.
Justin Schlaefli, a member of the San Diego Free Divers, said if the Coastal Commission could not deny the year-round rope request, then it should add conditions to monitor beach access for diver. Schlaefli said he did not think free divers or spear fisherman could use this beach while maintaining a 50 foot or even 20 foot distance from all seals at all times.
Michael Costello, a trustee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, said his organization has repeatedly voted to oppose the yearlong rope barrier several times over the past few years.
Both the La Jolla Community Planning Association and the La Jolla Parks & Beaches oppose the year-round rope. Both organizations support giving the community six months to present a “feasible mitigation alternative for people and seals to share the beach.”
“Our concern is human access to this beach,” said Costello.
David Pierce, a beach access advocate, agreed with the community groups. Pierce said, “The rope is not a solution.” He asked the Commission to give consideration to a proposed plan by Ed Harris, a San Diego Lifeguard Union representative.
Harris, a longtime lifeguard in La Jolla, is proposing a plan to install a movable boulder barrier at Children’ Pool. The boulders would block off an estimated 25 percent of the beach during the summer months for the seals and an estimated 75 percent of the beach during pupping season (Dec. 15 to May 15). The boulders would be a buffer between humans and seals. At a July 5 CPA meeting, Harris said the boulders would provide a solution that is good for children, divers, fisherman and the seals.
“Don’t give us a rope barrier with no laws, because it will create more controversy,” said Harris. “It will empower these people and these people to police themselves and we have the Wild West down there.”
He added, “We don’t want a guideline. Go back to the city and say ‘give us a law. Give us a reasonable law–one that can be enforced.’”
Patrick Ahern, president of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches, said his organization requests six months to review and present an alternative proposal based on Harris’ proposal. He said the boulders are a “physical and psychological barrier.”
In an email Wednesday afternoon, San Diego City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said she hopes the Coastal Commission will give the alternative community plan by the Lifeguard Union consideration.
The year-round rope will go up with several conditions:
- The year-round rope permit approved on a three-year term.
- Monitor both people and marine mammal activity at the Children’s Pool. Upon installation of the rope barrier, a qualified biologist, environmental resource specialist, park ranger, lifeguard or city-trainer volunteer will record the number of seals hauled out at Children’s Pool and the number people on the beach and in the water at least 16 days per month.