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Tentative Ruling Could Derail Lawsuit Over La Jolla Stench

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

Business owners sued the city of San Diego over a smell they believe is caused by the sea lions

A tentative ruling issued Thursday by a San Diego Superior Court judge could derail a lawsuit by La Jolla business owners upset with a stench along the scenic coastline believed to be caused by sea lion and bird droppings.

Judge Timothy Taylor granted the city of San Diego's motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit filed two years ago by Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement. He is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Friday, after which he can affirm the tentative ruling or change his mind.

Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement had claimed that the city and then-interim Mayor Todd Gloria failed to abate a public nuisance at La Jolla Cove. The city argued that the odor was among the risks and benefits of being located beside a marine environment.

With trial approaching, the city filed its motion for summary judgment, contending that it doesn't have a duty to control wildlife, is not the cause of the odor, and is immune from liability for natural conditions on its beaches, among other things. Taylor tentatively ruled that there are no triable issues of fact.

"The city does not have a duty to control the alleged nuisance caused by wild animals (cormorants and sea lions)," the judge wrote. "Thus, the city is not liable to (the) plaintiff for nuisance, and summary judgment is warranted on all causes of action."

He also ruled that the plaintiff was unable to show the city's conduct was a substantial factor in causing the odor.

"The court does not minimize the unpleasantness of the odors, and it empathizes with the business challenges they cause for area merchants and restaurateurs," the judge wrote. He said the solution could only come from the political arena, where the concerns of "wildlife needs vs. human desires" can be weighed.

The city had taken a couple of steps to alleviate the odor, including spraying a microbial foam on the rocks and installing a gate in a fence — in hopes that an increased presence of people on the bluffs would deter the sea lions from taking up residence in the area.

Trial had been set for May 1.

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