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Resolution Of The Seal Saga?

Your browser does not support this object. View the original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASy3BnYHRCs

Video published May 21, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: We discuss the latest in the conflict over roping off the seals at Children's Pool in La Jolla.

GLORIA PENNER: The saga of the seals at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla may be one step closer to resolution. The San Diego City Council voted this week in favor of a plan to protect the colony during pupping season. We visited the beach earlier this week and got reaction from the Animal Protection League and visitors about the decision.

SHANNON SIMONDS: Human interference or involvement, even being near them has a pretty huge impact negatively on their lives and on their pupping season. And although they’re docile and more scared of us than we are of them, they are still wild. They could bite you; they could attack you if you get near their pups. And so my hope is that just by educating people on a few facts of what the hazards are to both seals and human that they’ll make the responsible decision to just view the seals from an appropriate distance.

MARJANE AALAM: The problem is, whenever you use this beach as entry and exit points, it almost always results in the seals being harassed. And plus the seals cannot tolerate that proximity. Anyone coming from the waterfront scares them even more than people walking on the beach because that is their sortie.

KIM ROBINSON: I see the point of protecting the seals, certainly. But it’s just been such a controversy and both sides have gotten militant at some point. And I see the point of having a rope and having a ranger. That certainly is good for protecting the seals and for education.

SIMONDS: Having some sort of physical barrier with even, you know, modest signage really makes a huge impact. We saw on Saturday within hours after the sign going down there were just, you know, hundreds of people swarming the beach getting inches away from the seals. Dangling their kids over them, touching them... You know, basically it was just an unfortunate – a really sad situation watching the seals having to be compromised like that just within hours of the rope being down.

PENNER: Joining me now to explain the latest in the seal saga and to provide some context is KPBS reporter Katie Orr. Welcome, Katie.

KATIE ORR: Thanks, Gloria.

PENNER: Well you know you can see all the passion and interest in having the seals protected. So what's the other side about?

ORR: Well, there are those people that say, listen, the sea wall was constructed in the 1930s with the purpose of creating a safe beach for children to swim in and for people to enjoy the water without having to worry about the big waves rushing in. And they feel like that’s the purpose of the wall, that’s the purpose of the beach, the Children’s Pool, and that it should be restored to that condition.

PENNER: And I would think many of those people have to be people who have been in La Jolla for a long time. There's some tradition behind that and that would explain their passion against the rope, against the seals.

ORR: That’s true. And also the seals draw a lot of people. I mean, there's a lot of traffic down there. The area can get congested, and if you live in that area you might not necessarily like that.

PENNER: Alright. Now the City Council is really going to be the group that makes the ultimate decision. What are they voting on this week? Or what wave they voted on this week?

ORR: Well they voted on Monday to ask the mayor to put a rope barrier up permanently. All year round. But that is a process that could take a long time. You have to do an environmental review; there have to be public hearings. So it’s not something that could happen right away. So they also asked the mayor to declare an emergency that would allow him to put the rope up immediately. The mayor said he’ll consider it, but he is asking the city attorney for advice on whether or not this is actually an emergency. And he says he’ll act pending the city attorney’s advice. Apart from the rope they also voted to ban people from the beach during the seals’ pupping season, which is mid-December through mid-May. They voted to ban dogs from the beach year-round, and they also voted to hire a park ranger to patrol the beach.

PENNER: Let’s talk a little bit more about that emergency. Who is this an emergency for?

ORR: Well the mayor can decide that it’s a coastal emergency. And I should say the decision to put the rope up year-round is one that could ultimately be appealed to the Coastal Commission. So that’s a body with some say over this decision. Again, if the mayor decides it’s a coastal emergency the rope can go up immediately, preventing people really as a deterrent. It’s technically a shared use beach. But the rope is a physical deterrent, a visual deterrent from people getting too close.

PENNER: So then why was the rope removed last weekend in the first place?

ORR: Well under the policy they were operating under, people couldn’t get near the seals during the pupping season. The pupping season ended on May 15, and so the rope had to come down.

PENNER: Now I just read that yesterday the National Marine Fishery Service supports keeping people off Children’s Pool beach from December 1 through May 30. I guess that must be pupping season. Right. And they also back the idea of permanently installing a rope around the seals. What's the significance of having the National Marine Fishery Service involved in this?

ORR: Well that’s an agency that has been weighing in on this controversy basically since it started. And you know they’ve provided opinions to the city over the years. The city has modified some of the things it’s done because of what the agency said. And so to have them basically supporting the city’s actions is basically, you know, it’s a good thing for the city. They won't be challenged by this agency on their decisions.

PENNER: Well this has been going on for a very long time, the saga of the seals. How has this story developed? What were the milestones?

ORR: Well it started in the early '90s when seal rock, just off the coast of the Children’s Pool was declared a reserve for the seals. Of course the seals didn’t know that was the reserve, so they started migrating to the beach. In 1997, the beach was closed to humans because the seal waste had contaminated the water so badly. From there you know a rope was put up, somebody sued in 2005. The city was actually ordered to return the beach to its natural state, which would have included dredging the beach at a cost of $250,000 to $500,000. In 2009 another court said, no, you don’t have to do that. Finally last fall the legislature acted to give the city control over what happens.

PENNER: And that’s where we are now.

ORR: Right.

PENNER: Thank you very much, Katie Orr.

ORR: Thank you.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Califia'

Califia | May 22, 2010 at 3:58 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Dear kpBS,

A journalist with any integrity would try to be objective and present all the facts surrounding this controversial issue. The reporters at kpBS miss the mark in this regard by only presenting one side's opinions on the best use of Children's Pool. How difficult would it have been to get the other side of the story and present the facts about how the problems at this beach came about? This is a huge issue facing San Diego and it goes far beyond this small beach.

Here was your feeble attempt to provide balance to the bias in your reporting.

PENNER: Well you know you can see all the passion and interest in having the seals protected. So what's the other side about?
ORR: Well, there are those people that say, listen, the sea wall was constructed in the 1930s with the purpose of creating a safe beach for children to swim in and for people to enjoy the water without having to worry about the big waves rushing in. And they feel like that’s the purpose of the wall, that’s the purpose of the beach, the Children’s Pool, and that it should be restored to that condition.
PENNER: And I would think many of those people have to be people who have been in La Jolla for a long time. There's some tradition behind that and that would explain their passion against the rope, against the seals.
ORR: That’s true. And also the seals draw a lot of people. I mean, there's a lot of traffic down there. The area can get congested, and if you live in that area you might not necessarily like that.

The designated use of the Children’s Pool is not just “tradition” but state law that was authorized by the establishment of the Children’s Pool Trust. Unfortunately that rule of law was repeatedly disregarded by the San Diego City Council.

And no, it’s not just the people of La Jolla who benefit from access to the Children’s Pool. A lot of us from all over used the Children’s Pool and feel our rights are being trampled by the city’s inaction.

Lets review how we got to this state of chaos at the Children's Pool.

The Children's Pool was created from a rocky point of land in La Jolla. It was an area suitable for use only by experienced swimmers until a generous donation by Ellen Browning Scripps provided the funding build the seawall to create a sheltered beach for children. This was intended to allow children’s and inexperienced swimmers to have a place to enter the ocean and develop the skills and confidence to interact with their ocean environment. During the Great Depression, it took a lot of money, and advanced engineering skills to create this man made beach and protect it from the constant forces of the sea.

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Avatar for user 'Califia'

Califia | May 22, 2010 at 3:59 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

The tidelands that were protected were placed in Trust for all the people of California to use and enjoy. The city council recognized this wonderful gift and gratefully accepted it as the Children’s Pool for the people of San Diego. They also accepted the terms of the Trust and agreed to abide by the contractual obligations of the Trust.

Since that time people have enjoyed the Children’s Pool and generations of San Diegans have been introduced to the ocean by taking their first ocean swim in Children’s Pool.

As time went on people noticed an odd thing about the seals that had always been in vicinity of Children’s Pool. They seemed to have lost their natural fear of humans and were congregating in unusual numbers in areas used by people like Children’s Pool. The seal population slowly increased until they occupied a small portion of the beach. Then, many more than ever took up residence on the Children’s Pool Beach and people began wondering why. The city, with Sea World’s cooperation, had a plan.

In your report, you briefly mention the City Council's attempt to create a seal colony by officially designating a reserve at Seal Rock just offshore of the Children’s Pool. Had the council stopped at the designation of the reserve things would have been fine. However, your report ignored the reality of the nature of the seals that were congregating there. Many of the seals found around Seal Rock, and their offspring, were there only because Sea World released hand raised, rescued seals from all over Southern California, right offshore of the Children's Pool.

The intent was to stock the artificial colony at Seal Rock. Those opportunistic seals had other ideas and promptly discovered the comfortable, sun soaked and protected beach at Children's Pool. The result of this misguided wildlife management policy is an artificial colony of seals created on a man made beach.

This unnatural colony of seals has now increased in population to where the sand and waters of Children’s Pool are a biological hazard to seals and people resulting in more beach closures and misinformation about the source of the pollution. When the true source of the pollution from the seals was revealed the beach had to be reopened with public health warnings.

The polluted waters and sand of the Children’s Pool was a direct violation of the Trust and the City’s obligation to maintain the site for the use and enjoyment of people. Lawsuits were filed and won by beach access proponents. The city delayed and stalled implementing the court ordered remedies to the pollution and beach access. Finally, in a desperate attempt to avoid the obligations imposed by the Trust the city sought an incompatible addition to the Trust as a marine mammal park.

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Avatar for user 'Califia'

Califia | May 22, 2010 at 4 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Now, the seal population has grown and there is evidence that the seals cannot be sustained at the current level of population without seriously impacting all other marine species in the surrounding waters. The seals will deplete their food source and destroy the underwater marine reserve in La Jolla before long. The seals will begin colonizing the La Jolla Cove and this current problem will be repeated all over again. This time though, without the clear definition of the dedicated uses under a tidelands trust, the city will be obligated to surrender the Cove and the other accessible beaches in the area to wildlife.

The responsible thing to do in recognizing the environmental limits would be to properly manage the seal population around the Children’s Pool before the other species are depleted and other beaches closed. This would have many direct benefits toward reducing the conflict.

1. The seal population would stabilize at sustainable population levels and not have a detrimental impact on other marine species.
2. Shared use of Children’s Pool could continue with access by people accepted as a proper and legitimate use for this man made structure.

These uses are all now established in the amended Trust. The addition of the marine mammal park did not supercede or extinguish the traditional uses as a place for people to use as defined in the original Trust. The cause of all the hysteria would subside and people could once again use this precious resource while still protecting the seals. This would remove the profit motive of the self appointed seal protectors because the human audience could not be so easily conned into donations to “protect” the seals. The seals do not need such extraordinary protection. And by the way Mayor Sanders, there is no emergency in spite of the council’s declaration. No more implied closure using the ropes is needed. The seals are doing fine.

There are secluded coves and sheltered beaches up and down the San Diego coastline that are nearly impossible for people to access and are available to the seals. The cost to the people’s right to beach access by surrendering the Children’s Pool exclusively to seals is too great.

The fact that most seals flee humans is normal and should not come with the threat of criminal prosecution or physical assault to someone using a public beach. Any seals that have lost their natural fear of humans should be relocated to more secluded areas to allow the remaining seals to restore the natural balance of human/seal interactions.

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Avatar for user 'Califia'

Califia | May 22, 2010 at 4 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

The City’s management by inaction has led to the current state of chaos at the beach and cost city taxpayers millions of dollars defending lawsuits to force the city to act in accordance with the Trust. Still they resisted every common sense effort to restore Mrs. Scripps’ precious gift.

Former city leaders should be held accountable and the current council must correct the past mistakes by continuing the shared use policy while seeking to reduce the seal population in the Children’s Pool. Discourage the buildup of animals currently using the pool and relocate animals that have been permanently imprinted to humans to a natural environment far away from daily human contact. The Children’s Pool can then return to the former balance with a seal population that has a natural wariness of humans. Truly wild seals would not remain with the close proximity of people. Seals will remain in the general area but not at the polluting levels of overpopulation.

Please, kpBS, next time try a little balance in your reporting.

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