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Lifeguards Propose Boulder Barrier

July 5, 2012 1:26 p.m.

Guest: Ed Harris, spokesman, San Diego Lifeguards union

Related Story: Lifeguards Pose Solution For Children's Pool


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: Today on Midday Edition, we're talking about a controversial over one of the region's favorite beaches, the children's pool in La Jolla. Used to be a great place to take the kids for a swim on summer weekends. Now it's a great place to watch seals. But people are still unhappy about the way the beach has been split giving the seals the winning hand. The California coastal commission is due to vote next week on whether to approval a solution, a rope barrier keeping people around from the seals during pupping season. Now a new idea is being floated. Ed Harris is here of the San Diego lifeguards who is right now, floating off Del Mar.
HARRIS: How are you today?
ST. JOHN: Real good. First of all, tell us what you see as the difficulty with the rope barrier that the city has put up.
HARRIS: Let me clarify first, and I'm speaking on behalf of the lifeguard union and not the city. The problems with the rope and creating a year-round rope, it doesn't solve anything. The rope is a guideline that is violated wilfully and unwilfully by tourists and antiseal people or probeach people is probably a better term, all the time. And it creates a lot of controversy. So the current thought of having a rope barrier is not working for the six months it's there. It creates more controversial. So now to extend it out for a year will likely create more controversy in the summer than we have right now.
ST. JOHN: So the point you make that you're speaking for the lifeguards rather than the city is important because the city has put a huge amount of effort into getting the rope solution compromise passed. But the lifeguards, are there many lifeguards now in the children's pool? How involved are you in this issue?
HARRIS: Well, I personally worked there on and off for the last 23 years. Nobody has watched this more than we have. And we haven't taken a side. We're really not taking a side. What we're trying to do is come up with a solution that all parties can get behind. The rope isn't a solution that's been agreed upon widely by anyone. My understanding is the La Jolla town council is opposed to it, are the council person, sherry Leitner, is not in favor of it, nor is parks and beaches or the other community there. So it's not an idea that is embraced by the La Jolla community, is my understanding.
ST. JOHN: So you told our reporter, Katie Orr, that lifeguards have seen a lot of unacceptable behavior with the rope. What are you referring to?
HARRIS: We have had to take -- there's hundreds of incidents, but for example, we had an Australian family in town, there's no seals on the beach, but they were yelled at and belittled so much by proseal people that I had to take them in the tower, turn on the lights in the truck, and move them to another beach because their day was ruined. And I don't think anybody, especially a handful of people have the right to impose themselves as law there. And that's what's going on. Of it's a free for all. It's kind of the wild west where there's no really enforcement going on, and people are allowed to harass people and be an advocate, when people are just trying to enjoy the area.
ST. JOHN: The question is whether the alternative idea that you've come up with would solve that. Give us some idea about what you're suggesting instead of the rope.
HARRIS: Well, the interesting thing is seals don't like it when it's hot out, and kids don't like it when it's cold out. During pupping season, which is in the winter time, there's no reason to have a large section of the beach open. You can close 70%, 75% of the beach and use a rock barrier and allow the seals to come in and do what they need to do, allow them to have a place to birth, and a place where they truly have a lack of human interaction, where there's a rock barrier that people are more prone to stay behind. But you leave 25% of the beach open for the divers, the people who still want to access the area, and they have no reason to fight. They're able to get in there. But in the summer time, you move those bolders back. Keep 25% of the beach, and let them come up and have a place to rest. But you have 75% of the beach open for people. But the kicker is, you need to clean the sand. And the contamination is a big deal.
ST. JOHN: Well, let's talk about that in a minute. What is to stop the seems from just swimming over to the side which is supposed to be for the people?
HARRIS: That's not a problem. We've interacted and coexisted far before it was a problem. Seals were there before this become newsworthy. And so they will be; and they have been so used to people that they come up, and they crawl out of the water and come up and lay next to the people that have their umbrellas and are laying out in the sand. That's not a big deal. But have an area where they likely will go to be away from people.
ST. JOHN: And they like to go by the pier there anyway. Dave is on the line from imperial county.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I just want to say, I'm out here in im52errial county, but I grew up in San Diego. I went to the children's pool when I was a kid, it's great. I don't think the rope area is going to do anything. I think the lifeguards are doing everything they can under the circumstances. My only comment is this, there was a great white shark spotted off La Jolla shores two days ago. That children's beach with those seals on it it is basically like a cafeteria for large predators, and eventually they're going to find them. And once they find them, the seals are going to bail because they're not going to stay any place where they feel threatened. All the legal maneuvering is all well and good and everything. I would like the lifeguard's input on that, whether they've seen anything already, or whether -- because that's not something that would necessarily be publicized. Of but I just have to feel that this is a food source for a larger animal, and mother nature seems to take care of itself.
ST. JOHN: That's a really good point. Yes. I think we were all shocked to hear about the great white that was just spotted recently off there. Is that something that's likely to become -- that could change the whole dynamic with the seals?
HARRIS: If you bring that in, and I don't want to be accused of sensationalism, if you believe in evolution, then yeah, if there's a food source at some point. But I don't think that weighs into this issue at this time, personally.
ST. JOHN: Okay. So you were talking about contamination. That is one of the first things that crops up in people's minds. Will people want to swim in the children's pool if it's being shared by seals? Sounds like we lost ed. We have some calls here with people who are interested in expressing their views.

ST. JOHN: If it's being shared by seals. How would you keep the water clean? Oops, sounds like we lost ed. Maybe we'll get him back. We're interested to hear what your take is on this idea that Ed Harris is telling us about. He's floating in a boat off Del Mar, and it's possible that we've lost him. Okay, we're reestablished contact. Glad to have you back, Ed.

HARRIS: You got a busy signal out there?

ST. JOHN: A little bit. But we can sort of hear you.

HARRIS: Okay. I can barely hear you.

ST. JOHN: Oh, okay. What we might have to do is take some calls. I can see we have some calls here with people who are interested in expressing their views and get back to you. Let me just ask my producer whether any of the calls that we have on the line -- all right. Okay. We have pat on the line with her been about this issue. Thanks so much for joining us. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, that is doctor pat. My position is that I've been swimming now at the cove for 50 years, and what's happened here in the last dozen years with the seal fiasco is that the seals -- the issue is not the children's pool. Of the issue now is also the seals on the rocks at La Jolla cove which has both polluted the water and the air in the whole area. I think it's an enormous health consequence for the city and the tourism industry. And I also believe that the attraction of the sharks, be they great white or other sharks, is also an issue that needs to be addressed and not pushed under the table because we are going to have a fatality there, it's just of a matter of time. It could be this summer, it could be next. It's just waiting to happen.

ST. JOHN: So doctor pat, are you somebody who's spent a lot of time swimming off La Jolla

NEW SPEAKER: Almost daily, yes.

ST. JOHN: How can someone deal with something like that?

NEW SPEAKER: I think it's the seals that need to be moved off the beach.

ST. JOHN: You think it's the seals that are attracting the sharks.

NEW SPEAKER: Correct. The seals need to be moved away from the children's pool, and definitely away from La Jolla cove. If we can see to the children's pool, let's not concede La Jolla cove, and then they'll start working around the point, and soon we'll remember La Jolla as a place where we used to swim.

ST. JOHN: Okay. So now, ed, are you with us?

HARRIS: I am. Sorry about that.

ST. JOHN: No worries. Here we have a caller, doctor pat, who is saying that he thinks it's the seals that are attracting the sharks, and of course we did just see there was a sighting very recently. What's your take on that? Is that going to be a growing problem?

HARRIS: You know, I'm not an oceanographer or biologist or somebody that can attest to that. I have seen seals with shark bites out of them. So we know it happens. We know that there's predators. But there's protections going on, so there could be that that's also causing some of the shark stuff. But I think we get away from the issue in we focus too much on the shark aspect of it.

ST. JOHN: Okay. You're just trying to solve the problem that's there as we speak. We have Allison on the line who's got a take on your new idea. Thanks for joining us.

NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for having me. I just wanted to say I think this is a refreshing and very balanced take on the situation, and it's kind of silly that it hasn't been presented before. I think balance has to be achieved, and we're blessed to be in an area where we have the opportunity to be next to nature. And it's just so selfish to feel like people want to take that all for our own where the seals have been here for how many years having their babies, I just think it's a refreshing and wonderful idea.

ST. JOHN: Okay, thank you. So here's somebody who likes the idea of dividing the beach with the rocks, and of course you've mentioned that you'd move the rocks, depending on the season. So just the one last minute that we have left, how would you clean up the contamination, and how much would that cost the city?

HARRIS: That's the interesting part. When you move the rocks, the city moves thousands and thousands of tons of sand every year, they clean up beaches, move kelp, move sand. When you're doing that, you clean the beach, but even better, you can put the sand out in the ocean. The contamination goes away really quick as you move out into the ocean. So you can dump the sand over the wall, and they'll clean it and put it back. So we have a natural element that can be put back into the ocean to be cleaned and recycled.

ST. JOHN: And then are you going to go to the California coastal commission on Wednesday to present your idea?

HARRIS: I will. I will be there on Wednesday.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Good, well, I guess this issue -- I guess some people thought maybe Wednesday it would all be finalized because the commission would approve the rope and perpetuity, but it seems like that is not going to necessarily be the case. And as we've heard from our listener, there's a lot of different opinions about this. Thanks for joining us and filling us in.

HARRIS: You're welcome. Thank you.