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Resolution Of The Seal Saga?

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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.

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