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San Diego Appeals State Court Ruling On La Jolla Seals Ordinance

Photo caption:

Photo by Christopher Maue

Seals at the La Jolla Children's Pool on May 15, 2012, the day the rope was taken down.

The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to appeal a recent Superior Court ruling that overturned the city's ban on people going onto the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla during harbor seal pupping season — Dec. 15 to May 15.

On a 7-1 vote, the council voted to seek appellate review of a ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Frederick Horn that neither the city nor the California Coastal Commission — which ratified the law as the overseer of the coastline — followed correct administrative procedures with the federal government in developing the ordinance.

Council President Sherri Lightner, who represents La Jolla and has defended public access to the area, cast the dissenting vote.

Last month's ruling, in the case of Friends of the Children's Pool v. city of San Diego and the commission, handed a major victory to beach access advocates, who have long argued that the site's original use as a safe swimming area for youth should be maintained.

The day after the decision was announced, city attorney's spokesman Gerry Braun said the judge would require cities to get federal government permission before making land use decisions on the coast where seals congregate, which is not current law.

The Children's Pool was deeded to the city in 1931, but the seals moved into the area in the 1990s — leading to the controversy. The mid-December to mid-May ban was instituted two years ago after several high-profile cases of people harassing the marine mammals.

A rope barrier is kept up the rest of the year to discourage visitors from going near the seals.

According to Coastal Commission staff, water quality is poor in the area because of the seals, so it is not a good place for swimming anyway. Several nearby beaches with better water quality can be used, some within walking distance, staff members say.

Opponents of the ban contend the seal population is exploding and they are not a threatened or endangered species.

The public is still allowed access to the area's breakwater for walking, fishing or viewing the seals.

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