Planning Commission downs year-round rope barrier concept for seal protection
by Dave Schwab
Published - 10/04/12 - 12:13 PM | 3592 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pro-seal advocates and pro-beach-access supporters again clashed in ideologies during the Sept. 27 meeting of the city Planning Commission as a year-round rope barrier for seals at the Children’s Pool was being considered. At least for now, beach-access advocates scored a victory.				           Photo by Don Balch I Village News
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Humans got a leg up in a years-long tug-of-war over shared use between humans and seals at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool as the city’s Planning Commission voted 5-0 Sept. 27 to deny having the rope barrier visually separating the two species year-round instead of just during the marine mammals’ Dec. 15 to

May 15 pupping season.

Commissioners Griswold and Peerson were absent for the vote.

Former City Councilwoman Donna Frye testified at the seals hearing, arguing that all of the findings could and should be made by the commission to approve a year-round rope barrier.

“This is a three-year site development permit,” she said. “Let's try it and see if it works.”

Frye said the guideline rope “gives a person a reason to pause and think about what's happening.”

“They are wild animals,” she said. “This isn't like a petting zoo,” adding the rope “provides some line of demarcation to make sure everyone keeps a safe distance [from the seals].”

Frye told commissioners their decision “cannot make everyone behave well,” but added a rope barrier would make it easier for them to do so.

Ken Hunrichs, president of Friends of the Children’s Pool, which was established in 2004 to maintain the original intended use of the pool as a public beach open to swimming, diving and fishing, disagreed that findings could be made to support a year-round rope.

“This project does not conform with land-use regulations,” Hunrichs said. “It makes the entire beach a buffer zone where people are unwelcome. It blocks access. Public health and safety is threatened. The rope is intended to discourage lawful access to the beach using physical, psychological and visual barriers. The rope barrier is inconsistent with the Children's Pool trust. Pupping season is not year-round. A year-round beach encroachment cannot be permitted.”

Noting “seals are here to stay,” retired wildlife biologist Joe Cordero testifed that seals are most vulnerable during their pupping and molting seasons, which he said do not coincide and together are longer in duration than the six-month pupping season during which time the rope barrier is currently used.

“People are harassing seals in violation of federal law,” Cordero said, adding a year-round rope “is a good first step” and “the only viable, short-term option.”

Diver John Leek argued that the Planning Commission’s integrity would be comprised if it didn’t reaffirm its previous decision to deny a year-round Children’s Pool rope barrier.

“If you reverse your decision, your reputation is diminished,” he argued. “Don’t let special-interest groups intimidate this commission.”

Leek charged that the city staff's recommendation to deny the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s (LJCPA) appeal and support the year-round rope was not backed by scientific evidence.

“The city says a barrier across

96 percent of the beach does not impact beach access because we say it doesn’t,” he said. “That’s not going to hold up in court. Everything we do sets a precedent. The precedent here is, if you don't follow your own procedures, other lawsuits will follow because it’s worth it for people to do it.”

Several of those testifying in favor of the LJCPA’s appeal urged the commission to postpone its decision for six months to allow details of a plan known as the Lifeguard Union Plan — which calls for movable boulders to be used instead of a rope at the pool — to be worked out.

Animal-rights attorney Bryan Pease, who has sued the city seeking a year-round rope barrier at the pool, said the rope is a visual guideline only and does not bar beach access. Otherwise, Pease said, “People walk right up to the seals because they think it’s OK. Harassment continues, even with the rope barrier up. It’s worse when the rope barrier is down.”

“Today, you must help the city to define what shared use means,” said Ellen Shively of nonprofit La Jolla Friends of the Seals. “If you don’t, there will be a continual lack of respect and courtesy at that beach. Please put structure on shared use by voting against the appeal and for the guideline rope.”

Before rendering his vote, Commissioner Tim Golba, a La Jolla architect, said he could not understand how “96 percent closure of a beach is not restricting. I’ll be standing by our earlier decision and reaffirming it (LJCPA appeal),” he said.

Noting he was “profoundly conflicted by this whole thing,” Planning Commission chairman Eric Nasland chastised the bad behavior exhibited on both sides at Children’s Pool.

“People should be ashamed of themselves,” Nasland said. “I’m not seeing very many heroes here. I’m seeing a lot of bad behavior from all kinds of people. I can’t believe we can’t resolve this thing in a more civilized, humane way.”

Children's Pool was created in the 1930s by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps as a safe wading area for children. The trust she created is intended to provide public access to recreational beach users in perpetuity. The state legislature. However, has since interpreted the intent of that trust to include the potential use of Children’s Pool beach as a marine mammal park. The terms of such a park remain unspecified.

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