Originally published December 9, 2010 at 1:15 p.m., updated December 10, 2010 at 12:43 p.m.
The San Diego Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday against a city plan to maintain a year-round rope barrier to protect harbor seals at the Children's Pool in La Jolla.
The vote after a nearly three-hour hearing nullifies a September decision by a city hearing officer in favor of the year-round rope, something that was supported by the previous City Council.
Mayor Jerry Sanders objected to the move as an emergency ordinance -- which would have taken effect immediately -- but his office processed the necessary permit application to carry out the council's wishes, mayor's spokeswoman Rachel Laing said.
A rope, which extends 130 feet of the 133 feet of access at the Children's Pool, is kept up during pupping season, which runs from Dec. 15 to May 15. That was not affected by Thursday's decision.
The years-long controversy has pitted residents who want to use the area as originally intended, a safe bathing area for children, against environmentalists who want to protect the seals who gather on the beach.
Commissioner Tim Golba said coastal regulations ban things that impinge on beach access, and the rope leaves only three feet for people to get to the Children's Pool, even when the seals aren't weaning their young.
"That's encroachment to me," Golba said.
Supporters of the year-round rope said it was "just a guideline" that does not stop people from going onto the shore.
City officials are working to hire a permanent park ranger for the Children's Pool. The ranger would be expected to educate the public about the seals and, for at least part of the day, ensure some separation between humans and the marine mammals.