“I’ve watched the evolution of this seal issue since 1993,” said lifeguard union spokesman Ed Harris. “When I look at it, I see a lot of problems. The only way to get back to where we were is to come up with a compromise. If we continue to butt heads, we will never get to where we can enjoy the pool and not have the distractions of signs and bullhorns and people yelling at you … We’re killing our own tourism.”
The proposed solution, Harris said, was inspired by local landscape architect Jim Neri’s use of boulders at WindanSea beach to designate an area for motorcycle parking — an idea he hopes to re-create at the Children’s Pool to separate seals and beachgoers.
“In the wintertime, the kids don’t use the beach — they certainly don’t use the water — but the seals do, and they should have a place to pup. So in the wintertime, we propose marking off about 70 percent for the seals using movable boulders,” explained Harris.
In the summer, when humans enjoy the beach and seals enjoy the water during the day, the boulders will be moved to designate approximately 70 percent of the beach for beachgoers, and 30 percent for seals near the seawall.
“Believe it or not, the seals do not like the beach when we like the beach. It’s too hot,” he said. “They like nothing more than to be out on the rocks, especially when it’s hot. But they do like to come in at night, and they do like a place where they can get away.”
Harris said the seals tend to gravitate toward the seawall, and they will naturally make that area their home. Humans, too, will have access to the beach and water, and they would have no reason to go to the seals’ designated area.
The lifeguard union’s proposal also addresses the concern about contamination in the bacteria-ridden enclave — a problem that could negatively affect humans and seals alike. Each time the boulders are moved twice a year, a certain amount of unsanitary sand would be removed and dumped over the seawall or another nearby boulder area to get flushed out naturally by the ocean, he said.
“The sand will slowly work its way back into the water, the ocean will clean it [and] when it comes back ashore, the pollution is greatly reduced,” he said. “The ocean will clean that sand in a day. The fish will eat it and the sand will move right back in. It’s a very environmentally sensitive way of doing this.”
Harris said the proposal is not set in stone, and he hopes both sides will come to the table to devise a win-win plan together founded on the idea of using moveable boulders.
“There are still revisions that need to be done with this,” he said. “I want the groups to get together and come up with a final product — figure out how much land should be set aside and where the boulders should be.”
La Jolla Parks and Beaches members backed Harris’ plan at their June 25 meeting and supported his suggestion that user groups come together to establish a feasible, long-term mitigation alternative to the year-round seal rope.
“All groups are in support of doing something to settle the conflict down there,” said Parks and Beaches treasurer Phyllis Minick at the meeting. “I think you have a dynamite, workable plan.”
Others at the meeting praised Harris on his leadership and emphasized the need for a solution to the longstanding problems at the Children’s Pool.
“This is probably one of the most refreshing solutions I’ve heard, in my memory, for the Children’s Pool,” said Justin Schlaefli, president of San Diego Freedivers. “It’s one of the few workable solutions that achieves a true balance for the ecology that’s there, the seals that are present, the tourists who want to see the seals and the people who need access at the Children’s Pool, like freedivers.”
One guest stood in opposition to the proposal, however.
“The city attorney said dredging and moving was not feasible. The contamination is due to the manmade wall, and the seals have occupied it,” said seal advocate Dr. Jane Reldan. “The [California Coastal Commission] staff did consider your proposal, and that was not part of the staff recommendation. The compromise on the table right now before the Coastal Commission is the rope issue.”
Harris countered that the rope barrier is only a band-aid fix to the real problem at the Children’s Pool.
“We’re opposed to the year-round rope because it is not going to solve the problem. It’s going to perpetuate the problem. We believe a compromise can be made,” he said. “Both sides have guilt. Right now, we’ve got such polarization on both sides to the point where we’ve got to lop off the extremes on both sides. We need to bring people in the middle who are reasonable and say, ‘Hey, this is it.’”
Harris will present the proposal to the California Coastal Commission at its July 11 meeting, where he, on behalf of the lifeguard union, will request denial of the proposed year-round rope barrier and ask the commission to give the community six months to come up with a comprehensive, long-term solution to the Children’s Pool issue.
“Right now, what we have is a free for all. We’ve allowed parties to self-police and be their own enforcement, and that’s where society breaks down,” he said. “I want people to look at this [plan] in a fair light and say, ‘Wow, this is something I can get behind.’”