La Jolla Seal Deal
One of La Jolla’s most vexing crises could be on the road to resolution, thanks to bill approved by the state Senate April 16.
As anyone who walks along the shoreline in the ritzy San Diego neighborhood will plainly see, an enclave of harbor seals has selected as home a small cove near the intersection of Coast Boulevard and Jenner, just shy of Scripps Park.
The problem is San Diego was given that section of tidelands, in trust in 1931, for use as a coastal park and a children’s pool. Aptly enough, the property is called “Children’s Pool Beach.”
Until the seal squatters showed up in the 1990s, the cove was a children’s pool. Whether the seals should be evicted and the cove restored to its former purpose has been the subject of a fair amount of legal wrangling.
“The city has spent more than $1 million in legal fees to come to a conclusion,” Sen. Chris Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat, told her Senate colleagues in urging their approval of her bill, SB 428 which is aimed at settling the long-running dispute.
In 2005, a Superior Court ruled that the seals must go and the site be returned to a children’s pool because that is the stated use for the property in the 1931 trust agreement. An appellate court agreed.
The seals found more sympathy in federal court, which, in 2008, blocked the city from removing the seals pending a decision on whether the seals were protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
San Diego is effectively left between a seal and a hard place by the dueling decisions. The state orders the seals removed; the federal court says they stay.
As Bill Craven, chief consultant to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, dryly notes in his analysis of the measure:
“The dueling passions for children’s swimming and seal protection are on full display in San Diego with frequent and unfortunate encounters between the two sides.”
Kehoe introduced her measure at the request of the San Diego City Council. The bill would amend the 1931 tidelands grant to San Diego to read that the cove is a “marine mammal park for the enjoyment and educational benefit of children.”
Changing the language would allow San Diego, rather than the courts, to decide what to do with the Children’s Pool. Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, support Kehoe’s bill as the first step in allowing the seals to stay put.
But Kehoe insists the measure is simply a way to allow San Diego to determine its own fate. Or, in Craven’s words:
“This bill does not seal the fate of the Children’s Pool.”
Passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 30 to 4 vote, the measure needs to be approved by the Assembly and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before becoming law.
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