LA JOLLA - The San Diego City Council voted 6-3 Monday to prohibit people from venturing down to the beach at the Children's Pool during harbor seal pupping season.
The new regulation, if given final approval by the California Coastal Commission, would be far more restrictive than the current rope barrier, which is designed to discourage beachgoers from disturbing marine mammals at the scenic La Jolla facility.
The Children's Pool was deeded to the city in the 1930s to be a safe swimming spot for youngsters. However, the seals began to take over the area in the 1990s, creating a standoff between beach access advocates and supporters of animal rights.
Clashes between the two sides have been common, and backers of the seals contend the animals have been abused at times. Morris Dye, of the city's Development Services Department, told the council members that this is the next step in protecting the seals as a coastal resource.
The new regulation would bar people from using the Children's Pool from Dec. 15 to May 15 each year, when the seals are giving birth and weaning their young. Dye said staff plans to install a chain across the stairway to the beach.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald said the Children's Pool is no longer just an issue of concern to residents of La Jolla.
"It has become abundantly clear over the years this is a regional issue," Emerald said. "This tiny piece of beach with these harbor seals has become a regional treasure, and based upon some testimony from a gentleman who was here earlier, talking about how he and his wife vacationed here, it's
apparently become a national treasure, as well."
Councilmen Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman voted to oppose the plan, which was bitterly fought by Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who represents La Jolla. She cast the third dissenting vote.
"I'm concerned that we are drawing a line in the sand we do not need," Lightner said. "I shudder to think about the chilling precedent the suggested action sets and the effect it will have on public, physical access
guaranteed by the Coastal Act."
The Coastal Act was passed by the state Legislature in 1976 to require beach access in land use decisions.
Lightner's motion to reject the staff recommendation was voted down, and several amendments she offered were not accepted.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association voted 9-6-1 at a meeting in January to reject the proposed ban. Area residents have never supported a seasonal beach closure, Lightner said.
Several members of the audience said the seal population is exploding, and that they are not a threatened or endangered species. Supporters of the closure, however, said harbor seals require a sandy beach during pupping season, and cannot make use of nearby rocks like sea lions can.
Dye said the Coastal Commission could take up the issue at a meeting in August. Commission staff supports the seasonal beach closure, he said.
If approved by the commission at that time, the chain would be installed in time for the Dec. 15 closure, according to Dye.
The meeting attracted a capacity audience in the Council Chamber. One woman was escorted out by police, on the orders of Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, for disrupting the proceedings.