A San Diego Superior Court judge this morning made it clear that the city of San Diego must disperse the seals from the Children’s Pool in La Jolla, but he put off — probably until Friday — issuing an order that it be done immediately.

“It’s clear that the trust which governs what is permitted in terms of use of that particular beach does not permit joint use between humans and seals, it does not permit use as a seal habitat,” Judge Yuri Hoffman told a full courtroom. “That means the city must disperse the seals.”

However, Hoffman did not rule that the city immediately begin dispersing the seals. That order seems likely to come at a hearing scheduled for Friday. Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, said the city has been working on a plan to disperse the seals if the order comes down, but would not provide details.

Today’s action was the latest in a long-running battle over the presence of the seals at the man-made cove, which Ellen Browning Scripps had built in the 1930s as a safe place for children to swim. Since the 1990s, it has become a birthing ground for a colony of harbor seals and contaminated with bacteria from seal feces.

Hoffman’s statement came after a furious back and forth between City Attorney Michael Aguirre and Paul Kennerson, a lawyer who represents a Valerie Sullivan, a former La Jolla resident who sued the city in 2004 after she had been bit by a seal and then ticketed by federal authorities for seal harassment.

In her suit, O’Sullivan, who now lives in New Zealand, demanded that the cove be returned to its original condition. In 2005, Judge William Pate ruled in O’Sullivan’s favor and ordered the city restore the beach and cove.

The city, which unsuccessfully appealed Pate’s ruling, read it to mean that the cove must be dredged, which would result in the eventual removal of the seals. It has begun the process of completing an environmental impact report and getting the proper permits for the dredging, a process that the city says will take as long as three years.

O’Sullivan’s lawyer, Paul Kennerson, filed a motion earlier this year alleging that the city was dragging its feet on the 2005 order, and demanding that the city immediately begin the process of cleaning up the cove by dispersing the seals. In September, Hoffman issued a tentative ruling in Kennerson’s favor, stating: “Any and all portions of the judgment that can be accomplished without a permit shall begin forthwith.”

Aguirre argued that Hoffman’s order says nothing specific concerning the removal of the seals. And trying to remove the seals before the cove is dredged would be fruitless, and unnecessarily inflame the public.

“It will be chaotic situation, and nothing will be accomplished,” said Aguirre, who vowed to appeal any ruling that requires the immediate removal of the seals.

Kennerson called Aguirre’s assertion regarding the ruling “wrong and false,” and said Aguirre was grandstanding.

“Candidate Aguirre is here for the first time to put a monkey wrench in the process,” Kennerson said.


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