Advocates for Seals to File Suit Over Decision to Dredge Beach

Times Staff Writer

The activists, land-use planners and politicians have had their chance to settle the dilemma of seals versus humans at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla. And now, the courts will have their turn.

A pro-seal group will file a lawsuit today in hopes of overturning a recent decision by the San Diego City Council to dredge the beach to make it safe for public use. The group says the city’s real motive is to oust the seals.

An earlier suit filed by swimmers and La Jolla residents, urging the city to remove the seals, is still pending.


The beach is meant for the children of San Diego under the 1931 bequest of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, who donated the money to build a seawall that makes the area safer for young swimmers. For decades, generations of children swam there.

Around 1997, seals began to move in, setting off a passionate fight between pro-seal and pro-children factions. Subsequent contamination from seal feces has made the beach all but unfit for humans.

“San Diego is well known for its real, or purported, concern for animals, but those animals are captive at the zoo or Sea World,” said Henry Mark Holzer, attorney and spokesman for the Save the San Diego Seals Coalition.

“Here we have real animals living in the open,” he said. “It’s time for San Diego to live up to its reputation.”

Lawyers for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which enforces the Marine Mammal Act that protects the seals, have assured city officials that dredging is permissible if it is being done to eradicate a health hazard.

The coalition’s lawsuit asserts that the city in 1994 made itself responsible for the seals’ well-being by adopting an offshore rock as a seal sanctuary. The group also contends that dredging is a waste of public money.

Last month, after five hours of impassioned debate, the council voted 5 to 3 for dredging the beach to allow a greater tidal flushing action. The plan, which could cost between $250,000 and $500,000, would also reduce the size of the beach.

Some days, about 200 seals lounge at the beach. Tour buses stop there for pictures.

After the council vote, city workers removed signs warning the public to leave the seals alone. The pro-seal coalition said the act encouraged so-called seal-icide, noting that two of the animals have died under mysterious circumstances.

But Councilman Scott Peters, who represents La Jolla, says the dredging is aimed at making the beach usable by both seals and humans.

If wild animals took over a city park on land, the city would not hesitate to protect the public, he said.

“I don’t understand the emotion of it,” he said of the pro-seal groups. “I’ve seen it, but I don’t understand it.”