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Coastal Commission OKs Protections For Seals At Children’s Pool In La Jolla

Action bans the public from the beach during harbor seal pupping season

Evening Edition

Above: The California Coastal Commission approves beach ban at Children's Pool in La Jolla during harbor seal pupping season from Dec. 15 to May 15 for next five years.

Aired 8/15/14 on KPBS News.

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously Thursday to keep people off the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla during the harbor seal pupping season.

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously Thursday to keep people off the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla during the harbor seal pupping season.

People would be banned from the beach annually from Dec. 15 to May 15, when the seals are giving birth and weaning their young. The commission limited the seasonal closure to a five-year period.

A sign designates the current regulations at Children's Pool in La Jolla on August 15, 2014.

Children's Pool in La Jolla on May 15, 2012.

Over those five years, the commission asked San Diego city officials to analyze the quality of sand and water and consider the possibility of an access ramp to the beach for people who are disabled.

"It's a very balanced compromise that protects this natural resource that's a unique environment," said Adrian Kwiatkowski, executive director of the Seal Conservancy of San Diego.

It's the only seal birthing area south of Ventura County in California, he said, which makes it special for San Diego.

"As we all know, people go to see the seals, and take their friends and family to see the seals. And you'll still be able to do that from the sidewalk or from the sea wall," Kwiatkowski said.

San Diego Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who represents the area, opposed the commission's decision.

"It's an extremely dangerous precedent because that has had the public physical access there for well over 100 years," Lightner said. "I mean, there's a reason it was chosen for the development of Children's Pool there."

The San Diego City Council voted in February to ban people from the beach during the seal pupping season, but the action needed final approval from the Coastal Commission.

The new rules are more restrictive than the current rope barrier, which has been a point of contention for years. In April 2013, a Superior Court judge ruled the rope barrier should stay up year-round to protect the seals from curious beach-goers. The Coastal Commission and the San Diego City Council supported the year-round rope barrier.

Supporters of animal protection have clashed often with beach-access advocates over the seals. A city staff report says that municipal and other laws against animal abuse have not prevented harassment of the seals.

Last year, then-Mayor Bob Filner issued an emergency order to close the Children's Pool following sunset after a "seal cam" captured video that appeared to show people harassing the seals.

The sea wall at the Children's Pool was built in 1931, shielding the beach from crashing waves. Shortly after, it was deeded to the city as recreational area for families to enjoy. By the 1990s, seals had started taking over the beach, and it's been a source of controversy ever since.

Those against the new regulations include the La Jolla Community Planning Association.

The restrictions approved by the Coastal Commission will take effect at the start of the next pupping season in December.

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