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Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009 | The waters along La Jolla’s coast have recently been heated by controversy and debate; it has become so hot that the harbor seals that inhabit Casa Beach, also known as the Children’s Pool, are finding it difficult to swim freely and birth their pups. In 2005, anxious beachgoers, Superior Court Judge William Pate, and attorney Paul Kennerson belligerently attacked the seals by pursuing a court order to remove the rope that restricted access to the cove.
That very same court order required the city to dredge the site clean and disallow the seals from ‘hauling out’ onto the beach.
How can a puny one-acre-sized parcel of land be the center of such a furious debate? Are La Jolla citizens unsatisfied with the many miles of beach coastline in San Diego County that they must obsess over an already occupied section of the beach? It might be hard to tell amongst the commotion and debate, but it would be beneficial for La Jolla citizens to leave the seals alone and allow them to remain on Casa Beach.
The demands of pro-access advocates are unjustifiably bold and would violate municipal and federal codes of conduct.
Two separate regulations restrict the city of San Diego from disallowing the seals to use the cove: their own Municipal Code 63.0102, concerning the use of public parks and beaches, section (b)(10) states that “it is unlawful to take, kill, wound, disturb or maltreat any bird or animal, either wild or domesticated” and supported by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which makes it unlawful to harass any marine mammal. Any proposed court orders attempting to work around these regulations would cost a great deal of money to the taxpayers and the city and would most likely prolong and persist as with most court decisions.
A complete renovation of the Children’s Pool in La Jolla would be a shameful, fatal mistake by the city of San Diego. The pool is one of the few places in California where people can view the harbor seals and their pups in their natural habitat; the next closest rookery site is nearly 200 miles north in Carpenteria.
The city of La Jolla takes pride in their pristine beaches and many indoor pools and recreation facilities, therefore, sand dredging would be unnecessary; the disruptive noise of bulky machinery churning the beach and piling mounds of sand, in addition, it would take several months of this assault on the senses until the site is completely dredged. The dredging of the pool could cost anywhere from $250,000 to half a million dollars, in addition, up to $50,000 would need to be paid for anticipated ongoing dredging projects (O’Sullivan v. City of San Diego 17). This is a costly expense compared to the end result. Casa Beach’s magnificent view and the seals’ natural wonder work together to attract tourists and animal lovers, why spend money to eliminate a revenue? A viable answer is that the city of San Diego is attempting to cover up a fatal mistake they made regarding the Children’s Pool: their failure to monitor their own property. When the breakwater was first built, it served a purpose, but the beach has been allowed to excessively accumulate with sand and currently the beach is scarcely within the boundaries of the protective breakwater; the supposed Children’s Pool is no longer a safe place for the children to swim.
The seals have made Casa Beach their home and it is essential to their survival. Seals need to ‘haul out,’ or swim out onto dry land to rest and sunbathe for many hours a day, and the wall fortifying the Children’s Pool provides a section of the beach for the harbor seals to escape the pounding waves and high tides.
Subsequently, during the spring, harbor seals use the cove as a safe place to birth their pups, usually only one per mature female, and despite the careful attention of their mothers, seal mortality can reach 50 percent. Due to the longstanding occupation of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), the Children’s Pool in La Jolla is too contaminated for human use. The Center for Disease Control has stated that “some seals can carry tuberculosis and Giardia. Fecal contaminant bacteria and viruses would also be a potential concern (O’Sullivan v. City of San Diego 13).”
It would also be nearly impossible to cure this problem with actions such as dredging, relocating the sand, and opening the sluiceways without causing a disturbance to the beach and its natural processes or harming the integrity of the cliffs, which would be a concern for the residential and commercial properties sitting atop them.
Removing the seals would not be an everlasting ode to the children, despite the name ‘Children’s’ Pool’ — it would be like cutting down the trees at the local park for more swings and slides. Such ridiculous proposals could only lead to ridiculous arguments. When did arguments change from reason-based to a tunnel-vision ideal of the ends justify the means, where an animalistic claiming of land is acceptable if the actions are based on good intentions? The seals have every right to remain on Casa Beach and have not caused a single unprovoked disturbance.
Court orders and dredging projects are not the answers; the best course of action would be none at all.
Hoc Huynh is a senior at the School of Community Health and Medical Practices at Crawford High. This essay reached the finals of the 2009 voiceofsandiego.org Essay Contest. The other finalists’ pieces will run this week with the winner’s appearing Friday, Feb. 20.
Hollins, Jeremy. “Until Kingdom Come” The Design and Construction of La Jolla’s Children’s Pool.” Ed. Iris H. Engstrand and Molly McClain. The Journal of San Diego History 51 (2005): 1-138. 18 Jan. 2009 < >.
“Judge hears arguments on Children’s Pool rope.” Union-Tribune [San Diego]. SignOnSanDiego. 13 Dec. 2008. 18 Jan. 2009
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, (1972).
McInnis, Rodney R. Letter to Ms. Penera. 17 Oct. 2005. United States Department of Commerce. 18 Jan. 2009.
O’Sullivan v. City of San Diego. No. GIC 8296918. Superior Court of California. 25 Aug. 2005.
Rodgers, Terry. “Children’s Pool celebrates a birthday.” Union-Tribune [San Diego] 30 Jan. 2004. SignOnSanDiego. 18 Jan. 2009.
Rodgers, Terry. “Protectors of seals lose another court decision.” Union-Tribune [San Diego] 18 June 2008. SignOnSanDiego. 18 Jan. 2009.
Rodgers, Terry. “S.D. plans to appeal beach ruling.” Union-Tribune [San Diego] 2 Mar. 2006. SignOnSanDiego. 18 Jan. 2009.
“San Diego’s Children’s Pool.” The City of San Diego. San Diego Beaches. 18 Jan. 2009.
“Seals and Sea Lions.” The City of San Diego. Safety & Regulations. 18 Jan. 2009.
“Wading into the Children’s Pool debate.” Union Tribune [San Diego] 4 May 2008. SignOnSanDiego. 18 Jan. 2009.