Children’s Pool debate renewed with Planning Commission vote
by Dave Schwab
Published - 09/26/13 - 04:57 PM | 3665 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Visitors to Children’s Pool watch the resident seals from the seawall. The city Planning Commission voted recently to close the beach to humans during the marine mammals’ five-month pupping season. 	DON BALCH
Visitors to Children’s Pool watch the resident seals from the seawall. The city Planning Commission voted recently to close the beach to humans during the marine mammals’ five-month pupping season. DON BALCH
Now that the city Planning Commission has voted 4-2 to recommend closing La Jolla’s Children’s Pool to human contact during the marine mammals’ five-month pupping season, the stage is set for San Diego City Council to reconsider the thorny issue.

The commission’s decision was hailed as a “victory” by seal advocates, and as another in a long line of legal and governmental “miscues” by opponents who claim access to Children’s Pool beach at all times is a state constitutional right.

“The Planning Commission vote is significant because they are the land-use experts for the city, and they have now made the findings necessary to support amending the local coastal plan to fully protect the seals during pupping season,” said attorney Bryan Pease, who has been fighting for years in court to have the de facto seal rookery at the pool protected. “The City Council voted for this in principal back in 2010, and now the Planning Commission has approved the mechanism by which it is being done.”

Ken Hunrichs, a board member of La Jolla Parks and Rec, Inc., which makes recommendations to the city on coastal parks, who is also a member of Friends of the Children’s Pool, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the pool and the legal trust that protects it, said the commission’s decision is another example of the public’s constitutional rights being denied.

“This new plan calls for an amendment to the La Jolla community plan to restrict access to Children’s Pool beach because it is an environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA),” said Hunrichs, who argued that such a finding can only be made if the marine mammal species in question can be determined to be “rare or valuable.”

“Neither of those criteria fit Children’s Pool,” Hunrichs said. “It’s a man-made beach, there’s nothing natural about it. Harbor seals are common in California and there is no commercial harvesting of them allowed, though they might have some entertainment value.”

Hunrichs said the false ESHA claim is a legal device to attempt to ultimately turn the pool into a marine-mammal park circumventing the trust meant to protect the pool as a safe children’s wading area.

“When you close that beach down for an ESHA, then it eliminates that trust,” Hunrichs said.

District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s office said the proposal to close Children’s Pool beach from Dec. 15 to May 15 has yet be docketed on a City Council agenda.

In 1931, La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps at her own expense built a sea wall turning Children’s Pool into a safe wading area for children to swim. The harbor seal population in the area continued to rise during the 1990s, eventually causing the pool to be closed to human contact in September 1997 due to high bacteria counts from accumulated seal waste.

Then-councilman Scott Peters, now a congressman, fulfilled a campaign pledge after being elected in 2000 to support a shared-use policy allowing access by both species to the pool and its beach.

A seesaw battle has ensued ever since in both the courts and local government over whether shared use is viable, legal and under what conditions both species should be allowed access.

Children’s Pool remains a law enforcement concern. The San Diego Police Department has responded to numerous calls for service at the site involving alleged incidents of threatened assault and intimidation over the years between seal advocates, swimmers and divers. In some cases, citations have been issued or people were taken into custody. A La Jolla man was once indicted for sending emailed death threats to a seal advocate who was videotaping interactions between divers and seals.
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