City installs gate in fence at La Jolla Cove, hopes cliff access will help reduce odor

SAN DIEGO - The city of San Diego installed a gate in a fence at La Jolla Cove Tuesday, in hopes that people scampering on the rocks will discourage birds and large marine mammals from lounging there and causing a terrible stink.

People walking on the sidewalk can often be seen holding handkerchiefs over their noses. 

Jordan Witik is visiting from Connecticut. She had her sweater pulled up over her nose and mouth. 

"It's only in this area it smells really strong," she said. "It's not too bad but it is pretty stinky."

Gabe Ahn was visiting from Pasadena.

"This is the first time I’ve smelled what I smell," he said. "I wish the people watching at home could smell what I smell. It smells like fish."

The gate will allow people to access the cliffs, city spokesman Alex Roth told 10News. Having people on the bluffs will keep sea lions, seals and birds at more of a distance, which could reduce the odor, he said.

A group of area businesses sued the city of San Diego this month over the pungent smell, alleging that people have been sickened and that local restaurants and hotels have lost revenue.

Roth said interim Mayor Todd Gloria decided to have the gate installed at a meeting of top city executives on Dec. 17, before the lawsuit was filed. City documents show city officials were considering the idea as early as Nov. 8.

He said some people in La Jolla believe the white wooden fence has allowed wildlife to take over the bluffs, leading to the stench, and that allowing people to explore the area again will restore balance.

"You can't put yourself in danger or actively harass the wildlife, but you can go down to the cliffs," Roth said. "We hope this will alleviate the problem."

Bryan Pease is the attorney who filed suit on behalf of Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement. 

"We're not advocating that people approach seals or birds or sea lions," he said. "People should keep a safe distance from wildlife but opening this fence and allowing people to use the cliffs … then the birds are probably going to poop somewhere else instead of creating puddles you can see and smell."

A memo from city Assistant Chief Operating Officer Stacey LoMedico says lifeguards can issue warnings to people who appear to be at risk on the unstable bluffs, and cite those seen mistreating sea lions.

Roth said current city executives are unaware of when or why the fence was installed in the first place. In her memo, LoMedico said it was built prior to 2002.

Former Mayor Bob Filner hired a company earlier this year to remove bird droppings from rocks in the cove, hoping that would get rid of the odor.

However, complaints about the smell resumed soon after.

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