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San Diego Sued Over ‘Foul Odor’ of Sea Lion And Bird Poop at La Jolla Cove

Photo by Susan Murphy / KPBS

Above: Seals, sea lions and sea birds inhabit the rocks along the sandstone cliffs at La Jolla Cove.

A group called Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement is suing the city of San Diego and the state of California over the "foul odor" caused by bird and sea lion poop at La Jolla Cove.

A group called Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement is suing the city of San Diego and the state of California over the "foul odor" caused by bird and sea lion poop at La Jolla Cove.

The civil lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court on Dec. 19 on behalf of the group. The city has 30 days to respond. The smell, attributed first to bird guano and then to sea-lion poop, has long plagued the wealthy La Jolla neighborhood.

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Lawsuit Against San Diego Over Sea Lion Poop

Lawsuit Against San Diego Over Sea Lion Poop

A lawsuit filed against the city of San Diego over the sea lion poop in La Jolla Cove.

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Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement is a nonprofit made up of La Jolla business owners including George Hauer, owner of George's at the Cove restaurant, and the owners of the La Valencia hotel. Attorneys Norm Blumenthal and Bryan Pease are representing them pro bono.

"The smell is a public nuisance and the city is required by law to get rid of a public nuisance," Blumenthal said. "It's as simple as that."

Pease also fought against the city to protect harbor seals at the nearby La Jolla Children's Pool, but is arguing for what could be seen as an opposite approach in this case. While Pease wants to keep swimmers away from the harbor seals in Children's Pool, at La Jolla Cove he wants the city to take down a 10-year-old fence that blocks access to the cliff the sea lions occupy.

"There are these very large, flat, rocky areas that people are denied access to. And because of that the sea lions, which have these big flippers and can climb way high up on rocks, are climbing up there way past where the waves and the water will wash away the poop," Pease said. "So they're pooping up there and the cormorants and the pelicans are doing the same thing. If people were allowed to use that area, the animals would probably poop somewhere else."

Alex Roth, spokesman for interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, said the city is aware of the odor problem and understands La Jolla residents and business owners' frustration.

"We have some plans we're actively working on that would address the fence issue and improve access to that area," he said.

In November, Stacey LoMedico, the city's assistant chief operating officer, wrote a memo saying it is not against city law to walk on the rocks, even though a fence is set up. The city is also considering opening the fence or installing a gate, according to the La Jolla Light.

Last May, then-Mayor Bob Filner hired a company that makes a spray containing poop-eating bacteria to clean up the bird guano stinking up the cove. But Roth said that solution worked only on bird guano, not larger sea-lion poop, and only in the short term.

"If you clean up that area, the sea lions are just going to come back there and keep pooping," he said. "The real solution is to get the sea lions away from the cliffs."

Roth said one way to keep the sea lions away is to improve access to the cliffs.

"If people do have access, sea lions might decide it's not the best place to hang out and go elsewhere," he said.

Roth added that another contributing factor is an explosion in the sea lion population in California.

Pease said he hopes the lawsuit will force the city of San Diego "to cut through the red tape" and work out a solution with the state and the California Coastal Commission, which places strict limits on what can be built and what type of cleanup can be used at the ocean's edge.

"Those cliffs are a nice space, we want to let people hang out on it," Pease said.

The cliffs likely will be even nicer if the smell goes away.

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