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Court Says Seals Must Go, But New Law Says “Not So Fast”

Above: Seals sun bathe at Children's Pool beach in La Jolla.

Children's Pool in La Jolla is home to more than 200 harbor seals.
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Above: Children's Pool in La Jolla is home to more than 200 harbor seals.

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: KPBS reporter Sharon Heilbrunn asks visitors at the Children's Pool in La Jolla what they think about the controversy.

— Will the seals at Children's Pool in La Jolla be forced to find a different home, or will they be allowed to stay? Earlier today it seemed as if the seals were sure to be evicted. A judge gave the city of San Diego 72 hours to comply with a court order to remove the colony of harbor seals from Children's Pool, restoring the area to its 1941 pre-seal condition.

But then late today Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger complicated the debate by signing into law a measure giving control of Children's Pool back to the city of San Diego, and some City Hall watchers believe the City Council leans toward allowing the seals to remain undisturbed at the site.

Whether the court's 72-hour order will remain in effect or be changed due to the new law may not be clear at least until tomorrow -- or maybe later.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Assistant City Attorney for Civil Litigation Andrew Jones may provide some clarity when they hold a scheduled news briefing tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Responding to the earlier court order today, Jones told Judge Yuri Hofmann that the city will rely on an acoustical system using the sounds of barking dogs to shoo the seals away from the beach. That was before the governor responded to a request from Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, to expedite signing of the Children's Pool measure.

The Children's Pool, also known as Casa Beach, is protected by a sea wall built through a gift by the late philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. The beach was given to the city on the condition that it maintain it exclusively as a public park and swimming area.

Kehoe's new law amends a 1931 trust that designated the beach as a bathing area for children only, to also allow for a marine mammal habitat. Thus the City Council could apparently decide to allow the seals to remain.

Responding to the earlier court order today, the city said the dog- barking plan to rid the beach of the seals -- at a cost of an estimated $688,000 -- will require a person walking up and down the beach to make sure the animals are gone, Jones said.

If the effort to rid the area of seals does go ahead, officials were apparently concerned that demonstrators could show up. Jones said police officers will be on notice in case people who are against the dispersal plan cause any problems.

The process could be never-ending according to experts, he said. ``We'll do what is necessary to get rid of the seals, as best we can,'' Jones said outside court. ``We certainly can't do anything that will physically harm them. So we'll do the best we can with the devices and the methods that we have to be sure that we disperse the seals in the best way that we can.'' But that was before the governor signed the new law about seals at Children's Pool.

Any plan that the city uses to rid the area of seals must comply with environmental regulations, Jones said.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders -- before the new law was signed – said the city will comply with the judge's order.

``While all research indicates the costly undertaking of seal dispersal is unlikely to achieve the goal of improving water quality at the Children's Pool, the city must comply with Judge Hofmann's order,'' Sanders said.

``Therefore, the city of San Diego will implement a plan to disperse seals within the next 72 hours in order to avoid the heavy financial sanctions the judge has threatened,'' the mayor said.

He added: ``We will disperse the seals as humanely as possible and in accordance with the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and I urge the passionate activists on both sides of this issue to behave peacefully and to cooperate with law enforcement officers who will be on site during dispersal activities.''

Sanders was not immediately available to comment on the situation after the new law was signed.

Kehoe expressed appreciation for the governor signing the Children's Pool bill into law, and she said she's optimistic it will help settle the controversy.

``I'm grateful for the governor's quick signing of this legislation and hopefully it will bring some calm to an overheated discussion,'' Kehoe said in a statement.

``Our community has struggled through this debate for more than 16 years and now the future use of the Children's Pool rests with the San Diego City Council -- as it rightfully should,'' she said.

Paul Kennerson, the attorney for plaintiff Valerie O'Sullivan, said the time for the city to act is now.

``If the city of San Diego had done what is was supposed to do from 1930 to 1994, when this problem started building up -- for a very few dollars -- the damage would not have been done, the beach would not have been fouled, the place would have been preserved in the state if was supposed to be preserved in,'' Kennerson said. ``The city has to obey the law.''

Supporters of the seals have sought an emergency injunction in an effort to temporarily block Hofmann's ruling.

Ginny Uybungco, of Friends of the La Jolla Seals, said the judge's decision is more of a setback to the people who want to see the seals than it is to the animals themselves.

``This is a treasure for the state of California,'' Uybungco said. ``In this one speck of the universe, they (the seals) have one beach in (Southern California) to rear their pups and raise their pups.

``Because this is not just about the swimming, it's about everybody who comes to visit the seals. And if there are no seals, we have no tourists,'' Uybungco said. ``In a slowing economy, we need people to come there and sponsor a wonderful treasure that the city offers.''

Another Superior Court judge in 2005 ordered San Diego to restore Children's Pool to its pre-seal condition by dredging the beach to reduce the bacteria levels caused by seal excrement.

Hofmann ruled in May that the law requires the removal and dispersal of the seals from the area.

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Avatar for user 'Autumn'

Autumn | July 20, 2009 at 11:29 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

I said it before on a previous post and I'll say it again until this stops.

Look, we should not remove ANY living creature, insect, plant, reptile, bird, mammal, algae, or even bacteria from where it wants to be. Who are we to interfere with what nature wants. In fact humans are the evil on this planet that need to be stopped and removed. We destroy everything that we come into contact with. I say bring on the sharks that will follow the seals. We deserve all that will come of it. Let the fruit flies and bacteria prosper where they want. It is not our place to play God and say what can and cannot thrive in whatever area’s that they choose. Think of all the species that have been killed due to us being on the planet. Just thinking about chickens only that have been killed during their holocaust that spans human history makes me ashamed to be a human and makes me cry. We need to stop putting humans first. We are only one species (worst species) out of the other million species, and they, in my opinion, deserve more than what humans with our destructive actions deserve. We go after a mountain lion that hunts joggers in parks when the cat was only doing what is was made to do. We go after the great white shark that eats a few swimmers because it was doing what it does. We kill nests of wasps when they are near schools because, god help us if they try and defend their home and sting one of the children. We tent our houses and commit mass genocide on the termite colonies that only want to keep from starving! We uproot weeds (native plants) that have the audacity to think of growing in our lawns. We inject ourselves with penicillin to kill bacteria whose only crime is that they want to reproduce and live! All these things are wrong and are the things that define the human species as the enemy of nature.
As a species we need to all become Vegan, live like we are not at the top of the food chain, stop having babies so we can give Earth back to nature! Let’s start with the seals!

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Avatar for user 'Autumn'

Autumn | July 20, 2009 at 2:43 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

We should also not swim at La Jolla shores because we will disturb the schools of 4 ft, 20 lb Humboldt squid flock there every year.

The cove for the seals and the shores for the squid!!

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Avatar for user 'jessethomas'

jessethomas | July 20, 2009 at 4:03 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

If we do not put humans first, then do we go last? And who decides on what to do with property and natural resources?

Is your response really serious? Do you really mean we should not uproot weeds?

Please take the time to read Atlas Shrugged. There is a great deal you can learn.

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Avatar for user 'cubanitadelicadita'

cubanitadelicadita | July 20, 2009 at 4:10 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Thank you, Autumn.

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Avatar for user 'Autumn'

Autumn | July 20, 2009 at 4:33 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

We think of all sorts of creatures, plant, animals, or whatever as pests because they move into our comfortable living and recreation areas but the truth is that humans are the real pests to the planet. What other creature in nature has done one tenth of the damage that we have done. If anything, we are the ones needed to be removed, not the fruit flies, not the killer bees, not the fire ants, not the weeds and all the rest of the things that make us "uncomfortable". For all that we have done we should vacate the planet, move to Mars and let Earth heal itself if it is not already too late. Maybe in a million years or so we can try it again and see if we can co-exist with nature.

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Avatar for user 'PComplex'

PComplex | July 20, 2009 at 5:10 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago


If you feel so strongly about human interference, please feel free to remove yourself from the planet at any time.

Every little bit helps!

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Avatar for user 'JessCG'

JessCG | July 20, 2009 at 5:32 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

This is not about whether people or animals are more important. Polls indicate the majority of locals want the seals to stay. Children love watching them and it's a great economy boost as many people go to La Jolla just for the seals. In the current economy, the last thing we should do is eliminate an economy booster while increasing spending on police patrols at the beach.

This should be resolved by local government based on what local people want, not on the basis of a lawsuit filed by one angry woman who no longer lives in the United States.

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Avatar for user 'webdog'

webdog | July 20, 2009 at 7:08 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago


I'm actually in favor of leaving the seals, but I have to ask, do you own a refrigerator? Do you wash your countertops before cooking? Do you drive a car? Take any medications? Simply stating that we should leave all of nature to go where it wants to go is incredibly naive. Should we respect the Earth? Absolutely. But like it or not, we're at the top of the food chain. Your passion for Gaia is admirable, but that passion would be better served in finding a way to coexist. You might be willing to sacrifice modern civilization in order to live in harmony, but I doubt most of the world would agree with your point of view.

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Avatar for user 'Autumn'

Autumn | July 21, 2009 at 8:56 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Refrigerator? Why would I need something like that? My diet consists of fruit and some vegetable. I have my own vegetable garden and pick only the leaves that look like they will be shed soon that way I do not upset the sacred life force of the plant. Murder is murder. I also supplement with organically grown fruit from the store. For soap I use olive oil, lye, and water to make my own. I do not use the water heater so all my cleaning, including my body, is used with cold water. I go to bed when the sun goes down so I do not need electricity for light. I walk everywhere that I need to go which includes going to the library and using computer resources to spread the word about human cruelty to plants and animals as well as to tell people to do the responsible thing for the planet and stop breeding.
We have not always been on the top of the food chain. That was a conscious decision which can be reversed. It's obvious that we cannot co-exist with nature. As a species I have little hope that we will stop the mass murder of plants and animals that die simply due to our diet.
Many people are taking up the fight for the seals but the seals are just one tiny battle. How can people choose to fight one battle and turn away from all the others pretending that cruelty is not happening all around them? What makes the seals so special? Protect the seals but don't stop there. If you are going to fight the battle then fight the battle for all of nature that want to reside in places of human occupation. Fight for the seals, the ants, the wasps, the mosquitoes, the lizards, the rats, everything not just one and turn a blind eye to the rest.

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