SAN DIEGO — A judge on Thursday delayed an order to remove federally protected harbor seals from a La Jolla cove, minutes before a deadline expired that would have required city officials to begin dispersing the seal colony.
Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann earlier this week gave the city 72 hours to start the removal from the Children‘s Pool in La Jolla. But the city requested an emergency hearing to ask him to dismiss the order because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a state bill earlier in the week that could permit the seals to remain.
Hofmann refused to dismiss the order, but put the seals’ removal on hold pending an October hearing.
The city had planned to spend $688,000 to have someone play recorded dog barking to scare off up to 200 seals. Force can’t be used to remove them because they are protected marine animals.
“We don’t have the money to send people running up and down the beach chasing away seals,” he told the judge. “From a justice standpoint, we can’t afford it.”
The Children‘s Pool has been the focus of court fights for years between seal supporters and those who want the pool restored for human use.
It was created by a sea wall built in 1931 through a gift by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. The state, which owns the cove, subsequently placed the beach in a trust and granted the trust to the city of San Diego. The trust lists several possible public uses for it, including a children‘s beach and a park and for years it was used as a children‘s swimming cove.
Seals began showing up in increasing numbers during the 1990s. In 1997, the city posted a warning that the pool shouldn’t be used because it was contaminated with high levels of bacteria from seal waste.
In 2004, a disgruntled swimmer filed suit, alleging that a seal sanctuary was not one of the permissible uses for the cove and that the city was violating the state trust by not maintaining the cove in its original condition.
The following year, a state court judge ruled in the swimmer’s favor and ordered the city to remove the seals, clean up the contaminated sand and reconfigure the cove to its original state. An appeals court upheld the ruling.
Because of the new bill, however, the city plans to ask the court to dismiss the 2005 ruling, as well as the city obligations that come with it.