CHULA VISTA (CNS) - The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to keep a rope barrier designed to protect harbor seals up full-time at the Children's Pool in La Jolla.
The California Coastal Commission approved the city of San Diego's application to keep the rope up with clear signage and for a three-year term, providing the city develops a plan to monitor conditions at the Children's Pool and the effectiveness of the rope.
"It seemed to me that the rope worked. When it came down, that's when things started to go under," Commissioner Esther Sanchez said at the long-awaited hearing held at Chula Vista City Hall.
The city of San Diego applied to the commission to keep the barrier up year-round to discourage visitors from bothering the seals that took over the beach a couple decades ago. The barrier was previously up for six months -- from mid-December to mid-May -- when the marine mammals are giving birth and weaning their young.
"What I think is going here is not a problem with the seals and it's not a problem with the rope, it's a problem with people," said Commissioner Dayna Bochco. "I really feel that if both sides of this problem are not willing to sit down and work together, you're never going to solve this problem and this rope isn't going to matter."
Animal rights groups contended that seals harassed by beachgoers return to the water, sometimes abandoning their young. The rope, which leaves a three-foot opening, is designed to discourage people from going onto the beach, not to prevent them from doing so.
"What happens when the rope barrier is not up, is people just keep getting closer and closer. They want to get their picture taken, they want to try petting a seal," said Bryan Pease, an attorney who represents supporters of the seals.
Pease said one of two things would happen, either people would end up engaging in harmful interaction with the wild animals or the seals would be flushed into the water.
Joe Cordaro, a former wildlife biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said he could see both sides of the issue, but he had to err on the seals' side.
"I really feel for the people who may have lost their beach, and I believe Children's Pool is not a public beach any longer," Cordaro said. "It hasn't been a public beach for a long, long time. It's a harbor seal rookery and haul out."
The animal rights groups were opposed by beach access advocates, who want the beach returned to its original use, as a safe swimming area for children. The beach was deeded to the city in 1931, but the seals began to take it over in the early 1990s.
"The sea wall was built because La Jolla beaches have dangerous rip currents. There are no rip currents in the pool with a lifeguard station, bathrooms and showers. The seals don't need lifeguards," said David Pierce, who Scuba and free dives in the area. "Shared use is not abuse."
Pierce said he is not opposed to seals being on the beach, but the rope would cause more problems than it would solve.
Ed Harris, a city lifeguard union representative, said the rope was somewhat effective until it became clear there was no legal way to enforce it. He suggested the use of boulders as barriers instead.
"Don't give us a rope barrier with no laws because it will create more controversy. What it will empower is these people and these people to police themselves," Harris said. "And we have the wild west down there right now."
The San Diego City Council voted to apply for a commission permit for the year-round rope in 2010.
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