Now they’re just waiting to hear if the city is going to give them the chance to test their theory.
A decision is imminent by the city attorney as a result of a request by assistant chief operating officer Stacey LoMedico to open a gate, or remove a section, of the Cove fence to allow public access there while city liability for doing so is explored.
The idea behind fence removal is the conviction by some that the cause of the pervasive smell emanating from the bluffs stems from the invasion of birds and marine mammals — and their inevitable feces — that has intensified since a fence was installed to keep people off the rocks. Remove the fence and allow people back out onto the cliffs and many of the animals will gradually be displaced and move away — as will the smell, the theory goes.
Will that happen? It’s now up to the City Attorney’s Office to decide.
In a recent letter to the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA), which has been lobbying government officials to get the Cove stench taken care of once and for all, LoMedico wrote, “There are no restrictions to public access if a member of the public chooses to access the rocks/ cliffs. However, access is discouraged as the area can be unstable due to the erosion of the cliffs, rocks and as such there are signs posted on the fence that clearly indicates these conditions. If a member of the public chooses to take such an individual risk, it is also important to note that an individual should do so without disturbing the wildlife, birds and sea lions.”
LoMedico added that, should the Cove fence be reopened, city lifeguards have the right to warn those choosing to be on the rocks if they’re in personal danger, and also have the ability to cite them if they feel they’ve harassed or mistreated federally protected marine mammals.
Addressing La Jolla Town Council recently, Sheila Fortune, LJVMA executive director, discussed LoMedico’s letter and the possibility of unlocking the gate or removing all or part of the Cove fencing.
More importantly, Fortune noted the Cove stench is literally making people sick.
“It’s become a major health problem with a lot of businesses along Coast Boulevard complaining about people getting sick, my staff and myself included in our office,” Fortune told trustees.
Noting the Cove’s rocks were treated twice to counteract bird droppings, Fortune said there’s a growing awareness that waste from sea lions may be an even bigger part of the stench problem.
“Sea lions like to dine on sardines and sardines create an incredibly noxious odor,” she said. “We’re working to figure out a solution for everyone.”
Alex Roth, spokesman for interim mayor Todd Gloria, told LJVMA last week, “We absolutely understand this is a big problem and we’re as concerned as folks in La Jolla are about finding some sort of solution.”
Roth added that, at this point, “There are no options that really are off the table. Everything is being considered. Everything is being looked at.”
But whether opening the Cove cliffs up to public access proves to be the ultimate solution, Roth said if people are allowed access they’ll have to continue to respect the rules and keep a safe distance from wildlife so there’s no harassment.
Roth said the city is venturing into uncharted territory when it comes to eradicating animal-waste smells. Finding a solution, he said, is going to take some time.
“This isn’t a situation where you can snap your fingers and find a solution to the sea lion poop,” he said, adding the sea lion population statewide has just “exploded, growing perhaps tenfold” from what it was a few years ago.
“Whether or not we can install some sort of gate in the fence or open it up, we hope to have that answer fairly shortly,” Roth said.