La Jolla Poop Problem Lingers As New Solutions Are Flushed Out
Something still smells rotten in the village of La Jolla.
Bird and sea lion poop has built up on the bluffs overlooking La Jolla Cove for years. And while the city of San Diego is making efforts to clean the waste, the smell remains a heavy cloud over residents, visitors and business owners.
Now there's a renewed push to find solutions to the stinky problem.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently told the city's Parks and Recreation Department to boost the number of times a month a bacteria-filled spray is applied to the rocks from two to three. City Council candidate Ray Ellis also is working with a group of business owners and the city on exploring more creative solutions.
"Sea lions do not like to be wet when they’re out of the water, so we’ve talked about a misting system that may keep it damp and somewhat uncomfortable for them so they move to another area," Ellis said.
Another idea comes from the piers in San Francisco.
"A line which has PVC pipe on it so when the sea lions try to haul out, the pipe will spin on a cable and it prevents them from hauling out into this particular area," Ellis said.
Those ideas follow a long line of somewhat out-there solutions, including playing the sound of barking dogs over the cove to scare the sea lions away or hiring an animal behaviorist to train the animals to stay off the rocks.
Two years ago a group of business owners who call themselves Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement filed a lawsuit that argued the city is responsible for cleaning up the stench. It was tossed out, but the group's lawyer, Norm Blumenthal, said he will file an appeal in January.
Residents say the smell started when a fence was put up along the cliffs, which allowed birds and sea lions to congregate on the beach without being disturbed. Three years ago, then-Mayor Bob Filner stepped in to fix the problem, holding a news conference where he declared, "This is going to be a great day in the history of La Jolla that will go down in history for generations. You’ve heard of Independence Day. Well this is end-the-poop day."
Filner hired a company called Blue Eagle Distribution to spray its bioactive product on the bluffs. Blumenthal said that decision signified the city was claiming responsibility for the problem.
He's continuing the lawsuit because he said the spray only fixes the smell for five to seven days, and even the increased schedule of three times a month isn't enough.
"The city has a duty to remove the cause of the odor from the rocks," Blumenthal said. "If (the mayor) can just increase it and take away the smell, I’d be the first person to dismiss our case."
Tim Graham, a spokesman for the city, said in an email that the city received feedback that the spraying alleviated the smell for five to seven days after it was applied.
"With that feedback, the City instructed Blue Eagle to spray the bluffs once every eight days with the understanding the work would be postponed if weather or tidal conditions resulted in the spray washing off immediately after application as in the case of prolonged rain or high tides," Graham said. "The City will monitor this new schedule and determine its effectiveness in reducing the smell in La Jolla Cove."
Each spray session costs $2,400 for the two bluffs at the cove, he said, so the city will now spend $7,200 a month cleaning poop. Graham said the amount is low enough that the city hasn't needed to put out a public bid on the job.
So far, spraying Blue Eagle's product seems to be the only solution that fits under the strict coastal regulations. Those say that cleaning the rocks can’t create runoff that goes into the ocean. That means the city can’t power wash the bluffs, spray cleaners on them or scrape the poop into the water.
Blue Eagle's product is different because it is made of bacteria that eat poop without creating any runoff into the ocean.
It's the same process by which any animal waste is naturally decomposed, but with an important modification, said Robert Ahern, Blue Eagle's president.
"If you have any kind of waste, eventually you’ll have enough bacteria to remediate the guano. The problem is it’s a very stinky process," he said.
That’s because a lot of bacteria create smelly gas as they eat.
"What we have done is selected those bacteria that do not off-gas odors, but off-gas only carbon dioxide," Ahern said.
Carbon dioxide doesn’t smell.
But Ellis, the City Council candidate, said using Blue Eagle is "not a long-term solution," which is why he's working on alternatives.
No matter what solution the city chooses, Ellis said it needs to fix the problem.
"When you boil it all down, it really is a quality-of-life issue," he said. "This is such a great area, and for the people who live and work here, it really is a big deal."
The lawyer Blumenthal plans to continue his lawsuit until the air over La Jolla is as clear as the view.
"The slogan is, 'Go to La Jolla, the most beautiful place in the world and it stinks,'" he said. "That’s not a very good logo. We want to eliminate the last part of that logo."