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La Jolla Seal Saga Continues

La Jolla Seal Saga Continues
The long saga of the seals at the Children's Pool in La Jolla will last for at least three more months. That's following a Superior Court judge's decision to delay a ruling on the fate of the seals until October. What factors played into the judge's decision to delay his ruling? And, why has this story captivated San Diego over the last decade?

In Limbo: Who Has Jurisdiction Over the Seals?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Well, with that we’re going to move on to the latest on what we know about those harbor seals parked at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool. On Thursday morning, Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann set aside his order to bring barking dog recordings to the beach site to scare off about 200 harbor seals. So, Barbara, what’s next? What happens next?

BARBARA BRY (Associate Publisher, San Diego News Network): Well, Gloria, next there’s going to be another hearing in October. This has been a great week for news, given this is the summertime and we’ve got a state budget, the seals, and Comic-Con’s in town.

PENNER: And hot weather.

BRY: And hot weather. So I think you have to go back to, you know, state legislation was signed this week SB-428, a bipartisan bill co-authored by State Senator Christine Kehoe and Assembly member Nathan Fletcher.

PENNER: Local folks.


BRY: Local folks. And it would give control of the Children’s Pool back to the City and it also has an important amendment that allows it to be used as a marine habitat. The original – When Ellen Browning Scripps originally gave, you know, built – the money, gave the money to build that seawall, she designated that it should be used as a place for children to swim and that’s been, you know, where the controversy started. When the seals came in, you know, and it seemed that the children and the seals could not coexist. So I think next is this hearing in October, which the judge could postpone until January when the legislation takes effect.

PENNER: So it’s still under his cloak or cape or robe, so to speak. So…

BRY: Yes, until January. January one is when this new legislation takes effect. It was passed, the governor signed it earlier this week but it doesn’t take effect until January one so in a sense we have to – the judge has to put off the hearing again, which he is legally able to do.

PENNER: Okay, so I’m going to ask you, Tom, to put on your rational hat in all of this and tell me what is the point of even having these hearings if the new state law gives the City of San Diego the power to decide how the cove should be used? Why doesn’t the judge just back off and say, all right, we’re not going to do anything, we’re going to leave it up to the City in January?

TOM YORK (Editor, San Diego Business Journal): Well, as I was talking to Barbara before the show began, it seems to me that this is like a – this is – there’s something else going on here. There’s something going on at a deeper level. We’re arguing about seals at the beach, and, you know, normally that wouldn’t be – it wouldn’t even break a headline in the newspaper. But it’s become front page news, and why is that? It’s almost like a couple arguing over a, you know, over something at dinner when there’s deeper issues involved, and I think that having the courts involved, having the legislature involved is just overkill. I think that the two sides need to get together here and come up with a solution that works that maybe favors the seals and maybe gives children a chance to swim somewhere else.

PENNER: Well, let me turn to our listeners on this. Okay, so Tom York is seeing something deeper than the seals in the water—whoa—…

YORK: Yeah.

PENNER: …going on here, that there might be some kind of a push-pull, a little controversy between the legislature or the legislative arm of the government and the judiciary. And I think you know for me, kind of being a nerd in political science, I like the idea that maybe there is some controversy between branches of the government.

YORK: Well, it seems to me that maybe some of the money, some of the untaxed money, that the La Jollans have is being used here in kind of an unfair way.

PENNER: Okay. Number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. All right, this is probably your last chance to record your feelings about the seals on Editors Roundtable. I don’t know if we’re going to come back to visit this again or not but I’d like to know how you are feeling this morning about what is going on in San Diego and the harbor seals. Again, 1-888-895-5727. And you can also comment online on Just go to and you can register your comment there as well. All right, Barbara Bry.

BRY: Well, Gloria, you know, last night when I knew that I was going to – we were going to be talking about the seals today, I thought it would be interesting to read about Ellen Browning Scripps and she was a most amazing woman. You know, she was a newspaperwoman. She invented the concept of the feature story. She made a fortune in the newspaper industry, retired to La Jolla. I mean, the Scripps name is all over this town, Scripps Memorial Hospital, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. And I started thinking about what would Ellen Browning Scripps want us to do today? And I think she would want the seals, given that she also put up the money for Scripps Institution of Oceanography, so she was very interested in marine life. She also obviously was very interested in children having a place to swim and there’s a lot of places for children to swim today.

PENNER: Right, so they were – there’s probably some conflict going on there. I knew we had a really valuable asset here when we asked Barbara Bry to come on. She’s actually channeling Ellen Scripps at this point, which I think is rather amazing. 1-888-895-5727. Our lines are full. Tony, I’m going to ask you to wait while we go to Shirley in Pacific Beach. Hi, Shirley, you’re on with the editors.

SHIRLEY (Caller, Pacific Beach): Hi. Thank you very much. I agree, I – With the City of San Diego as a tourist destination and we have the world famous Sea World, San Diego Zoo, the Wild Animal Park, which all promote conservation and here the City of San Diego is buckling under a few La Jollans that have – want to deny the Marine Mammal Protection Act and shoo away these harbor seals using these tactics. I think it’s really shameful for this city not to uphold the Marine Mammal Protection Act. I’m really proud of our legislature to – that they’ve done what they’ve done at the state level. And this is a wonderful, educational opportunity for children to learn animal husbandry and being good stewards of the planet and animal conservation.

PENNER: Well, thank you very much, Shirley. Probably spoken like somebody who really believes in preserving our mammals and our marine life. And, besides, pupping season is coming up in a few months and once those seals start having their babies, it’s really going to be hard to try to push them off the beach. I think that happens in November. So the judge better be careful if in October he says, okay, bark – barking dogs. Tony, your turn.

TONY PERRY (San Diego Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): Well, I’m sorry to see this issue go. I think seals have won now and unless – and there’s some talk that more litigation – someone claiming the state legislature cannot declare a marine sanctuary or give the City the right to do that, that’s a federal responsibility and, therefore, they would like it go back and have the state court again say children yes, seals no. I don’t think that’s going to work. The seals have won. And journalistically, I’m very disappointed in that because this has always been a good and easily done story and so I’m very disappointed. I do think, though, there’s a lesson about sugar daddy money because Ellen Browning Scripps was one of our early sugar daddies and now, of course, we’re in a whole phase where we’re looking for sugar daddies to fund everything. Yeah, but they always want something for their money. She wanted that beach for the kids and we’ve spent a million dollars in legal fees battling that out.

PENNER: We have.

PERRY: Beware sugar daddy money.

PENNER: I think Matthew in La Jolla wants to talk a little bit about the money as well. Matthew, please join us at the Editors Roundtable.

MATTHEW (Caller, La Jolla): Yeah, I just want to follow up on that point quite a bit about why can’t we have, you know, the seal advocates build a cove using their money?

PENNER: Okay. Well, I think it probably takes more than money to…

PERRY: The City had a seal sanctuary, the big rock out there, Seal Rock, and we declared it off limits to divers and other folks and we just thought it would be awfully comfy for the seals and it was for awhile until the seals, for reasons of their own, decided to come ashore. So we’ve tried to deal with the seals but the seals are very independent pinnipeds and they just won’t help us.

PENNER: Okay, well, I think that answers your question, Matthew. Tony always has the answer. And now let’s hear from Todd on Interstate 5. Hi, Todd, I hope you’re on your Blue Tooth.

TODD (Caller, Interstate 5): Yeah, actually I do have a headset on. Let me…


TODD: Let me point out or make one correction. First of all, the 1931 land grant that was from the state legislature to the City of San Diego included all sorts of different uses and one of the uses was as a highway, as a park, all sorts of different uses, and bathing for children was only one of the uses. What the SB-428 did was essentially allow one of the uses to be as a marine mammal park, and I think that’s consistent with what Ellen Browning Scripps would want since she wanted this to be for children. And if you ask children what they want to do, it’s they want to go and watch the seals.

PENNER: Okay, I think – I thank you, Todd, for clarifying that. That really was helpful. Well, needless to say, this subject always brings in a lot of response from our callers so I want to remind you, if you don’t get through this morning, you can contribute to the conversation online. Just go to Editors Roundtable page on We’d love to hear from you. And we are going to be back in just a moment. We’ll spend a few more minutes with the seals, and this is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

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PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner and we are talking about the latest on the harbor seals versus the children and where that now stands. And at the table discussing that is Barbara Bry from San Diego News Network, Tony Perry from the Los Angeles Times, and Tom York from San Diego Business Journal. And we just heard from Todd, then during the break Tony had a comment about Todd’s comment so I’ve asked him to go ahead and say it on the air.

PERRY: The courts have consistently, and the legal scholars have looked at that, say the deed emphasize children and human use. There is no indication that animal use was ever considered. And by the way, when we talk about seals, and I think they’re just lovely as little things, it isn’t the seals that’s the problem, it’s their poop and it’s all over the beach.

PENNER: I was waiting for somebody to clarify that.

PERRY: I mean, that’s really the thing that they don’t want to talk about it. They… on the beach and if children get on the beach, that’s a problem.

PENNER: It’s in the water, too.

PERRY: It’s in the water.

PENNER: Yeah, right.

PERRY: I mean, it’s somewhat different than we’re talking here.

PENNER: All right, now, Barbara, you and Tom raised the issue earlier as to what else may be going on. Is this something deeper than just a seals versus children issue?

BRY: Well, there was an interesting letter in the San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday from Pat Kruer, who is on the San Diego Coastal Commission, and in the interest of full disclosure, he’s my ex-husband.

PENNER: I thought I remembered…

BRY: So just in the interest of full disclosure. But it was a very good letter. And it said that he felt the issue was sort of between public access to the coast and wealthy people in La Jolla who don’t want as many tourists coming into La Jolla. And that he felt the city council and the legislature should come down on the side of public access and that having the seals at the beach is a very educational tool for children.

PENNER: I’ve heard this before, not from Pat Kruer, and so where are you on this? I mean, this is an opinion show. Do you agree with your ex-husband?

BRY: Yes, I do agree with my ex-husband on this and I’ve been – I’ve lived in San Diego since the early eighties and I’ve enjoyed walking in La Jolla Cove and at the Children’s Pool since the early eighties and I think it’s a wonderful thing to have this. It’s sort of like our little version of the Galapagos Islands…


BRY: …where you can see nature up close.

PENNER: …La Jolla, Tom, has just since we’re leaning on La Jolla, at least Barbara and Pat Kruer are, has again renewed this interest in seceding from the City of San Diego and so is there something special about La Jolla?

YORK: Well, the La Jollans certainly think so. I think they think that it’s a special place and they want to protect it and protect the privacy and whatnot that they have. I think a bigger issue here, too, is that this is a danger that the state lawyers will always tell you of trying to control the future from the grave. And I think that by, you know, putting something into writing and then, you know, as you pass away leaving it there, it takes out all the flexibility and so we’re dealing with something, you know, many years later that wasn’t even thought of when this was all put together. So I think there’s – there needs to be some sanity brought to the process and one thing, for example, is classifying all this animal waste as toxic waste. I mean, it’s sort of – it sort of, you know, deepens the issue, makes it more sinister than it actually is. I mean, seals are natural and that’s what they do, I mean…


YORK: …why should we be afraid of it? We should, you know, just realize it’s there and walk around it or swim around it.

PENNER: So do all living beings and things.

YORK: Right, right.

PENNER: Yes. You know, when it comes to bringing sanity to an issue, Tom York, you do a really good job, so thank you very much.

YORK: Thank you.