SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego City Council Tuesday approved an annual seasonal closure of Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach during sea lion pupping season -- May 1 through Oct. 31.
The closure, authorized by the California Coastal Commission on April 8, is intended to ensure the safety and health of both visitors to the area and the sea lions. It will be in effect for seven years.
"Today's action codifies the boundaries and the timing of the closure and allows for what all sides of this issue want -- greater enforcement," said Councilman Joe LaCava, who represents District 1 and the sea lions' preferred beaches. "This effort was only possible with the input of the mayor's office, Parks & Recreation Department, our lifeguards, advocates, La Jolla community groups, and the over 1,500 individuals that completed the public survey.
"With their input, we achieved a compromise that preserves ocean access and keeps the public at a safe distance to enjoy the natural wildlife on our coastline," LaCava said.
The closure covers the rocky shoreline known as Point La Jolla from the Conrad F. Limbaugh and Harold F. Riley commemorative plaque -- northwest of La Jolla Cove -- down to the stepping stone adjacent to the low concrete wall, a relatively small portion of rocky land abutting Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
The action also safeguards the remainder of Boomer Beach as an ocean-access zone for those accessing the water for bodysurfing, swimming or spearfishing. According to LaCava, the design reflects feedback received during a public engagement period and balances restricting access to the rookery during pupping season with preserving water access.
"With the growing sea lion population, Point La Jolla has become a popular tourist destination for the public to view these wild animals at close range," a city staff report on the proposal reads. "As a result, interactions between sea lions and the public have increased resulting in reports of harassment of the animals. Members of the public have been observed trying to touch, take `selfies,' and get as close to sea lions as possible which is potentially dangerous for not only the animals, but also the public as well."
The sea lion pupping season is a critical time for mothers and their young to bond, nurse and learn to swim. Human interactions with adult sea lions and their young during this time could potentially result in injury to and/or abandonment of sea lion offspring, as well as aggressive behavior from adult sea lions.
Prior to proposing a closure last year, the city began public education efforts to encourage appropriate and safe behavior. When harassment incidents and conflicts continued, the California Coastal Commission directed the city to take emergency action and close Point La Jolla for the second half of the pupping season. According to city documents, this initial closure worked, with incident reports becoming nearly nonexistent.
"Over the years we have witnessed -- I have witnessed -- behaviors of harassment that endangered birthing sea lions, their pups, and risked the safety of the public and their children interacting with wild animals," LaCava said. "Today's vote is the culmination of a year-long effort to safely preserve this unique wildlife experience while representing the interests of visitors and wildlife alike."
The move also bans all dogs from the point -- excepting service dogs -- year-round as well as fireworks at Ellen Browning Scripps park during the seasonal closure. Park rangers will be stationed nearby with the authority to give penalties and fines.