La Jolla Children’s Pool closes for pupping season as legal war continues
The controversial beach in La Jolla known as Children’s Pool closed Friday for seal pupping season for the second year in a row despite a court ruling last year that found the restrictions illegal.
The controversial beach in La Jolla known as Children’s Pool closed Friday for seal pupping season for the second year in a row, despite a court ruling last year that found the restrictions illegal.
The beach, which was created using a 330-foot crescent-shaped concrete seawall, will be closed through May 15, according to city officials said.
It’s a federal violation to harass or disturb the marine mammals. Park rangers and lifeguards regularly monitor the area during the pupping season for the safety of the wildlife and the public.
An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled in May 2016 that restrictions on the area during the winter and spring violated state and federal laws.
The city, with support from the California Coastal Commission and animal rights advocates, appealed the court ruling.
“That’s the most ridiculous decision I’ve ever seen,” said San Diego-based attorney and activist Bryan Pease. “It’s so outlandish. I’m not even worried.”
Just before pupping season started in December 2016, an appellate court granted city officials the discretion to restrict access to the coastal area as the legal battle plays out. A hearing date in the case has yet to be set.
La Jolla residents have been pushing for years to keep the beach open year-round.
“People are worn out,” said Ken Hunrichs, president of Friends of the Children’s Pool, the nonprofit spearheading the legal action against the city. “It’s been so long, and here we are today with the beach closed. At some point there has to be a resolution to this.”
Hunrichs said his group is prepared to go all the way to the California Supreme Court.
The City Council decided in 2014 to limit access to the beach during pupping season in response to concerns that people were harassing the seals.
The Coastal Commission documented in 2015 several dozen incidents of humans disturbing seals. The agency has expressed concerns about people startling the seals during pupping season, prompting a “flushing” stampede of these animals toward the water that can result in the trampling of newborn seals.
Hunrichs said these concerns are overblown.
“I don’t see any real abuse,” he said. “I see people perhaps loving them too much and wanting to get too close to them for pictures.”
Philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps deeded the beach to the city in 1931, with the express wish that it remain available as a swimming area for children.
In the 1990s, harbor seals began gathering at Children’s Pool, creating a rookery and polluted the area with waste.
By 1998, city officials were looking at ways to remove sand that had collected on the beach behind the seawall and attracted the seals. The breakwater was constructed with four sluiceways, or porthole-like tunnels, which allowed for greater circulation of ocean water. However, the sluiceways were sealed years ago after a child became trapped in one and drowned.
A bill in the state Legislature signed in 2009 gave the city of San Diego greater latitude in managing the site, including using it as a marine mammal park.
Over the years, various groups have proposed a wide range of potential solutions, from barring human access the beach year-round to using dogs and bullhorns to disperse the seal colony.
When the beach is open to the public, the city uses a rope line to remind visitors to keep their distance from the animals.
Smith writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune
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