The annual closure of Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach has once again been worked out and solidified. Unfortunately, the decision leaves residents on either side of the argument.
SAN DIEGO— On April 8, the California Coastal Commission voted to close Point La Jolla and most of Boomer Beach for six months a year during sea lion pupping season. The decision to temporarily close the areas was finalized after reports found that beachgoers were trying to touch and take selfies with the animals.
The closure will run from May 1 to Oct. 31 and limits access to the area between La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach, where the sea lions are known to give birth and raise their pups.
Groups advocating for the closure applauded the decision, while those hoping for more beach access and research call it “short-sighted.”
The decision to close the area came after a council member had personally witnessed what he viewed as conflicts between the sea lions and the public, according to Moriah Gaynor, the Communication Director for District 1 of the City of San Diego.
The councilmember reported aggression towards beachgoers from sea lions with young pups.
“He [the councilmember] attempted incremental and educational approaches to maintain safety for visitors and wildlife alike,” said Gaynor. “When these efforts were unsuccessful, the Coastal Commission requested an emergency closure for the 2021 season. Since then, the city has worked with the Commission to impose a seasonal closure.”
The California Coastal Commission is the lone body that can approve the Coastal Development Permit to reduce coastal access. As a follow-up to the emergency closure in 2021, the City of La Jolla filed an application for an annual seasonal closure based on community input from stakeholders and the general public. The Commission modified the city’s initial submittal, inserted additional conditions, and approved the permit in reviewing the application.
The San Diego City Council will be voting to update the San Diego Municipal Code as part of implementing the approved permit. Those changes will clarify the city’s enforcement authority during the closure period, similar to the enforcement language governing the Children’s Pool.
The Sierra Club San Diego chapter and the Sierra Club Seal Society have been speaking out in favor of the closure for months and are “pleased with the California Coastal Commission’s decision,” said Sierra Club Seal Society chairwoman Robyn Davidoff. However, the club has no official role in the process. The Sierra Club San Diego Charter is a local environmental advocacy nonprofit whose Seal Society volunteers have independently self-appointed themselves as docents at Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach and to patrol the area. They have independently relayed their observations and their advocacy to the city and Coastal Commission, just as any organization or member of the public is allowed to do.
The annual closure comes after the city closed the area for five weeks last summer, Aug. 11 to Sept. 15, on an emergency basis following months of reports of beachgoers bothering, and in some cases harming, sea lions and their pups. The commission also designated an ocean-access-only zone across Boomer Beach that includes the “historical trail” frequently used by oceangoing individuals; this area is open for ocean access year-round.
The city proposed closing Point La Jolla from May 25 to Sept. 15 each year. Then, however, the Coastal Commission imposed a series of conditions on the city’s coastal development permit, expanding the closure period to May 1 through Oct. 31.
The city also proposed maintaining public access to Boomer Beach, where sea lions haul out, and the bluffs above it, but commissioners pushed to expand the closure area.
San Diego Parks & Recreation Department Assistant Director Karen Dennison said the city accepted the conditions.
The seasonal closure permit is to be in effect for seven years. The Coastal Commission approved a seasonal closure for seven years when the permit will be re-evaluated. In addition, the city is required to monitor the behavior of the sea lions and the public to determine whether the closure requirements should be reduced or expanded. The monitoring will be summarized in an annual report to the commission.
“We are thrilled that the commission and the city agreed to the seasonal closure dates of May 1 to Oct. 31 and use the boundaries from last year’s emergency temporary closure,” Davidoff said. “This boundary reduced the number of sea lion harassments while providing ocean access using the historic trail.”
The city will be required to have rangers onsite daily; another Sierra Club request.
“The rangers … will be a huge improvement in reducing harassment,” Davidoff said. “We can’t wait for them to arrive, as visitors of up to 300 per hour continue to enter the rookery and disturb the sea lions who are eight months pregnant out of a nine-month pregnancy.”
Those against the decision continue to advocate for an environmental impact report (EIR) to study the cumulative impact of the burgeoning sea lion population, as was requested by multiple local planning groups.
“I hope [City Councilman Joe LaCava] and his supporters suffer the consequences of the odor [from sea lion feces] they’re forcing residents to endure because of a lack of enforcement by the city against tourists who thought it was OK to harass the sea lions and take selfies,” bodysurfer Nick Menas said.
“By the way, he can inform the city that more lifeguards he claimed he wanted are no longer needed because the park rangers will be there, and there won’t be anybody on the sand or in the water to protect,” said Bodysurfer Kurt Hoffman.
Hoffman said he was “disappointed but not surprised by the vote” because those arguing for the closure “did a great job communicating their concerns to the CCC over the past year.”
“We appreciate the current issues of tourists and selfies,” said Hoffman. “We will support the city’s [permit] for a seasonal closure of Point La Jolla for 2022. However, we do not support closing safe access to Boomer Beach and No Mans [a local term for an ocean access point at the end of Point La Jolla]. We feel these issues need to be revisited in 2023, and an EIR must be commissioned by the City of San Diego as soon as possible … [, and] must be a condition of any Point La Jolla [closure permit] for 2023.”
In October, the La Jolla Community Planning Association voted to ask the city to preserve Boomer Beach access and asked the Coastal Commission to require an EIR for any future closure. The vote came after months of discussion and debate at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board, where the idea of an EIR also was floated.
Community Planning Association President Diane Kane, Parks & Beaches President Bob Evans, and Vice President Brenda Fake criticized last week’s decision in a collective statement.
In a collective statement with the La Jolla Light, Community Planning Association President Diane Kane, Parks & Beaches President Bob Evans, and Vice President Brenda Fake criticized last week’s decision.
“It’s an unfortunate decision that both the city of San Diego and the CCC worked toward and was very unbalanced and does not meet the needs of the community,” said Kane, Evans, and Fake. “The majority of the public has a positive perception of the sea lions, but the majority of the conflict has stemmed from a small number of very vocal individuals who feel passionately about the issue. We think it’s critical to understand the full breadth of sea lions and their impact on the environment and community, such as what can be achieved by a comprehensive environmental impact report. The city should have done a much better job with all stakeholder engagement to reach a collaborative win/win for everyone, including wildlife. Closing down beaches and access, coupled with K-rails and ugly signage and anything that diminishes the recreational uses of the park, is a very short-sighted solution.”