What’s the Big Stink About La Jolla Cove?

What’s the Big Stink About La Jolla Cove?

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Birds fly in and around La Jolla Cove.

 

Something stinks in La Jolla.

The odor is so foul that diners near the La Jolla Cove are known to leave restaurants before their meals arrive. Tourists have told some hoteliers they won’t be returning until “that smell” goes away.

If only it were so simple.

Years ago, La Jolla residents and tourists frequented the bluffs that surround the cove but the rocky areas have since been fenced off. Cormorants, seagulls and seals have taken over, leaving behind piles of feces.

A lack of oxygen exposure or recent rain has allowed the stench to fester, and it’s done just that for months. Dry, hot conditions over the summer made it even worse. On some days, the stench travels nearly a mile from the cove.

Early this year, La Jollans started to seek a solution. They found some possibilities and asked for the city’s cooperation.

But they soon learned the complexity of their plight: The cove is one of 34 state-protected Areas of Special Biological Significance, meaning any potential solutions must be vetted by multiple layers of regulators. One regulator estimated it would take more than two years to get a single permit.

That prompted City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, whose district includes La Jolla, to write a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown.

“La Jolla finds itself caught in a morass of state regulations — and it stinks. Literally,” Lightner wrote in a letter mailed earlier this month.

The City Council plans to vote on a resolution to seek immediate help from the state to “overcome existing bureaucratic roadblocks” later this month.

La Jolla residents have come up with some potential options to cut through the crap: products they say would help accelerate the bird feces’ decomposition, thereby improving, if not eliminating, the stench.

One of the manufacturers, Bio-Organic Catalyst Incorporated, told city officials their product could chemically degrade the bird poop without harming the sensitive coastal environment. Others have made similar claims.

But cleaning the bluffs, where any rain water quickly flows into the ocean, would require the approval of three state agencies: the California Coastal Commission, state Water Resources Control and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Though the feces accumulation is natural, it is considered a pollutant under state definitions unless it flows into the ocean under natural circumstances, so the city needs a permit if there’s any chance the feces or the cleaning solution to remove it could fall into the ocean.

Step one, therefore, is a permit from the regional board to allow potential discharge.

Such authorizations aren’t easy to come by.

Bob Morris, a senior engineer with the regional board, estimates the process would take at least two years because the La Jolla stench wouldn’t be considered a major environmental concern.

“By itself, it’s not going to jump in front of other projects, other actions that the board needs to take that would have more impact on protecting water quality,” Morris said.

He suggested the city consider a solution that wouldn’t require pollution, perhaps spraying a product on the portion of the bluffs farthest from the ocean.

“I would like to see an evaluation of what could be done,” he said.

If Morris’ agency ultimately approves the city’s permit request, the situation would fall to the state Coastal Commission.

The commission would want even more details on the potential solution to remove the bird droppings, including the concentration of any products used and an explanation of how the city would monitor the removal process, said Kanani Brown, an analyst in the commission’s San Diego office.

Finally, because the La Jolla Cove is a state-protected area, the state Water Control Resources Board would have to provide a similar stamp of approval.

The entire process would take years.

Ironically, a series of heavy rains could clear the problem. San Diego just hasn’t gotten the drenching it needs.

“Usually when the winter rains come, it washes away and resolves the situation,” said Brown, who emphasized rainfall should be considered among the possible solutions for clearing the stench.

Still, La Jolla business owners and residents are tired of waiting. Rain has yet to solve their problem.

On a recent afternoon, restaurateur George Hauer stood along the cove, watching the birds and seals.

The owner of George’s at the Cove, a restaurant that boasts ocean views, Hauer said he’s struggling to enjoy the beauty of nature.

He estimates the stench drives away 20 to 30 customers a day and he’s concerned they won’t return to his restaurant or even La Jolla.

“If the impression that’s left with visitors is that it’s not a good place to go because it smells like bird crap, then that is not an incentive to come back,” he said.

Hauer recently created a Change.org petition to persuade officials, namely Lightner, to remove the bird droppings. More than 1,250 residents and visitors have signed it in recent weeks.

La Jolla resident Mark Evans, a retired attorney, the La Jolla Village Merchants Association and the La Jolla Parks and Beaches group have also championed the cause.

They’re concerned about potential health hazards associated with the stench, which they say have left some cove visitors feeling sick.

Locals say the droppings give off the pungent odor of fish that’s been left to rot.

“It’s so acrid it sticks in your nose and throat and makes you want to throw up,” said Phil Coller, president of the merchants association.

Coller, Evans and others worry the cove could be more than just stinky, particularly because of the ammonia invading the air.

The validity of those concerns is not clear. No one has tested the air but the levels of ammonia would need to reach high levels to be considered toxic.

Lightner’s office has asked the county Department of Environmental Health to test the air to ensure it’s not hazardous but the county has not yet agreed.

Rick Gersberg, a microbiologist and an environmental health professor at San Diego State University, said the stench would need to be highly concentrated to create a substantial risk.

“My guess would be that it’s disgusting and it’s bothersome and it might even burn the eyes but it’s probably not exerting adverse health risks,” he said.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

  • 433 Posts
  • 11
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

34 comments
restorechildrenspool
restorechildrenspool

First of all I would like to kindly correct two very important errors in this article. I feel more research needs to be done to be objective and to triangulate the information prior to publishing an article. Those are SEA LIONS at the Cove, not seals. And you have a photo of birds but not of the larger creatures , 800 lbs, with larger feces, the Sea Lions with regards to the noxious ordor. It is time that you stop being afraid of being called a Seal or Sea Lion Hater. This is a 6th grade tactic that you are all falling for. And it must stop immediately or you will continue to perpetuate the problem and more of the ecosystem will be harmed. No one hates seals or sea lions. That is absurd. The simple fact is that the pinniped population is not being managed by the Marine Mammal Agencies. And it should be.
Last year the sea lions at La Jolla Cove were literally starving to death on the rocks . Dead carcasses smell bad too. The Seal Lions at the Cove are literally storming the beach , roaring like a lion, fangs dripping and chasing the beach totally clear of people. This is occuring regurally. I was there. Amazing. I have researched and learned that their bites are not uncommon and they are very serious bacterial infections. This as opposed to the SEALS at Children's Pool who have a totally different disposition ( like a Lab. ) and are very docile and calm and even gentle to humans.
In summary, the Marine Mammal agencies need to step in and control the populations of the pennipeds immediately before anyone does get bitten, and to allow for these urban swimming areas to be safe and to be clean. The Cove was closed on 10/18/13 for seal fecies e.coli. Not good at all. Closing beaches is NOT the logical answer, a closed beach perpetuates the problem. The fish stock and species loss is a huge issue as well in my opinion especially at the Children's Pool. For Sea World to be allowed to release seals and sea lions into an new area previously void of such populations with out an enviromental impact study is really wrong in my opinion. I can find no species inventories nor fish stock reports prior to releasing new marine mammals to a completely new locatoin in an urban environment to ascertain if the underwater ecosystem could support such new numbers. If you know of any please I have found the Sea World release data. Lots of releases folks , lots. I beleive that such an EIR would have been necessary prior to releasing any. And then yearly assessments done to compare the fish and species lists and counts with those prior to any releases. If anyone knows of any please submit them. I have been told that Sea World makes quite a profit from the rescue and release business. Sharks need the food, they are the species that is on the endangered list. Release seals in a wild environment not an urban one. No, that does not mean I am a seal hater, don't go there; I am an Ocean Environmentalist in the truest sense, I love the seal's home. With out a balanced Ocean the seal suffers. This is what is occuring. This is what I observe. I am there day in and day out in the water all year long. What is being missed here in my opinion is the main reason for Ocean Management of any type: To Keep BALANCE. Without balance there is devistation. Logic. We have a very serious situation of unbalance it seems. I also believe it is logical to presume that if the penniped populatons were controlled and balance restored, the MPA would be much more abundant, and so then would the spill-over area adjacent to it. A good example is the Cabo Pulmo Reef. They too have pennipeds, a balance is there. And Cabo Pulmo is the best example of a reef recovery in the World. It has recovered 465% and is now great fishing again in their spill over area. Our spill-over area just south of the Cove is very far from abundant . The seals have devoured just about everything. And are now going out further and further to hunt. The East Coast is far ahead of us with their seal population problems. Sharks are being attracted to the seals Their fish stocks will never recover with seal populations into the 1000's. And the fecal pollution is out of control killing species as well. The stench is so bad, that is takes the pleasure out of viewing the seals. And that is the crux of this as well. To make a profit from the view of seals is not condusive to their welfare or to the welfare of the ocean balance. And stench causes businesses to loose customers, etc. I looked at how many jobs there are that are related to marine mammal management, and it is into the hundreds, possibly thousands. And yet I see no 'management occuring save, saving and releasing more and more'. How much is a ticket to Sea World? Lots of profits and not much management = unbalance for all creatures great and small.
Snorkel Swimming Club of San Diego supporting a balance ocean environment.

Pedro Lanhas
Pedro Lanhas subscriber

Maybe the profit from selling the droppings would at least be enough to pay for the frequent cleaning...!

Pelanhas
Pelanhas

Maybe the profit from selling the droppings would at least be enough to pay for the frequent cleaning...!

barb graham
barb graham subscriber

Well, in a way it IS a class issue. It's not my problem, I can't afford to go to La Jolla. I don't smell anything.

White Deer of Mission Valley
White Deer of Mission Valley

Well, in a way it IS a class issue. It's not my problem, I can't afford to go to La Jolla. I don't smell anything.

barb graham
barb graham subscriber

Now it's about to lose the porch. The green and the lawn are gone.

barb graham
barb graham subscriber

Well, there's the solution...TEAR DOWN THIS FENCE!

myearth
myearth

t increasing bird poop?

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

They don't call them fowl for nothing

mgland
mgland

They don't call them fowl for nothing

d8017ddc-2ec3-11e2-83db-101f742c2de4
d8017ddc-2ec3-11e2-83db-101f742c2de4

It's important to understand that cliffs composed of seemingly similar strata at Black's Beach and along the coastline from Sunset Cliffs to La Jolla (and beyond) collapse on a fairly regular basis. Along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, for example, the undermining has required substantial work (and funds) to shore up the road. Erosion is incremental, but inevitable. Using a high pressure firehose, as suggested above, would be an accelerant I imagine. Over the years I have dealt, for example, with affluent property owners above Black's Beach who, in irrigating their lawns, managed to undermine same, thereby shrinking their property and causing major, life-threatening (and life ending) collapses upon the beach below.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

Then...what about putting a pump in the ocean and powerwashing the bluffs with sea water? Can't get much more natural than that, with a little help from technology. Bet the little fishies would love nothing better than to dine on some of that bird poop.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

Then...what about putting a pump in the ocean and powerwashing the bluffs with sea water? Can't get much more natural than that, with a little help from technology. Bet the little fishies would love nothing better than to dine on some of that bird poop.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

Coast Boulevard is threatened after a million years of erosion. A one-time application of a little water isn't going to cause problems.

sdguy
sdguy

Coast Boulevard is threatened after a million years of erosion. A one-time application of a little water isn't going to cause problems.

Jim Neri
Jim Neri subscribermember

Thanks Lisa you are a fine writer but please write a follow-up story and take someone who can actually smell the odor (maybe "moleman" from the comment above so he can understand that this is not a class issue). "someday a rain will come and wash the scum from the streets"

Jimmer
Jimmer

Thanks Lisa you are a fine writer but please write a follow-up story and take someone who can actually smell the odor (maybe "moleman" from the comment above so he can understand that this is not a class issue). "someday a rain will come and wash the scum from the streets"

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

There is another aspect to this, which is the impact of erosion on public and private property. If the solution reached accelerates erosion, property owners are going to have a lot more to worry about than smell, as in no property. Coast Boulevard is already threatened by undermining. Short term solutions can have long-term consequences.

B Chris Brewster
B Chris Brewster

There is another aspect to this, which is the impact of erosion on public and private property. If the solution reached accelerates erosion, property owners are going to have a lot more to worry about than smell, as in no property. Coast Boulevard is already threatened by undermining. Short term solutions can have long-term consequences.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

mgland has this one correct. It's all about maintaining government status quo, not about intelligent solutions.

sdguy
sdguy

mgland has this one correct. It's all about maintaining government status quo, not about intelligent solutions.

moleman
moleman subscriber

even better, the poor little rich people of La Jolla don't want to follow the rules.... wah, wah! NIMBY at its best.

moleman
moleman

even better, the poor little rich people of La Jolla don't want to follow the rules.... wah, wah! NIMBY at its best.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Not to worry. With over 2/3 Demo majorities in both houses of the legislature and Gov. Moonbeam in place, we are set for massive tax hikes that will solve all problems.

toulon
toulon

Not to worry. With over 2/3 Demo majorities in both houses of the legislature and Gov. Moonbeam in place, we are set for massive tax hikes that will solve all problems.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Layers of Bureaucrats justifying the Existence of layers of Bureaucrats supporting the underlying agencies that may get around to doing something if and only if the layers of Bureaucrats can agree on what their turf has to gain or lose before someone can actually get down there with a power washer and clean it up.

mgland
mgland

Layers of Bureaucrats justifying the Existence of layers of Bureaucrats supporting the underlying agencies that may get around to doing something if and only if the layers of Bureaucrats can agree on what their turf has to gain or lose before someone can actually get down there with a power washer and clean it up.

restorechildrenspool
restorechildrenspool

Baloney, I go there all the time and snorkel, and it costs nothing. Not a penny.

restorechildrenspool
restorechildrenspool

Allow people on the rocks again as is historical back to the Native People's days. People keep the creatures at bay. Balance needs to be restored.

restorechildrenspool
restorechildrenspool

It was just brought up at the Parks and Beaches meeting this topic about erosion and the over-mining of the Cave below this area. Worth considering as well.