A San Diego ordinance that closed Children’s Pool in La Jolla during seal “pupping season” is constitutional, a state appeals court panel ruled, reversing a 2016 decision by a lower court judge in Orange County.
“We are thrilled by the outcome,” said Seal Conservancy President Jane Reldan. “Justice has been served.”
Beach access advocates were not in agreement, and said they’ll take the matter to the California Supreme Court if they have to.
“The public’s right to access beaches, especially man made beaches like the Children’s Pool, must be preserved,” attorney Bernard F. King II told the San Diego Union-Tribune in an email Friday.
The decision on Thursday was the latest round in a long saga of conflict between would-be beachgoers and environmentalists.
The beach was created as a designated area for children to swim in 1932, using a large, crescent-shaped seawall, protecting the shore from oncoming waves and making it safer for inexperienced swimmers.
The seawall also made the spot ideal for harbor seals and sea lions, which began gathering at the beach in large numbers in the 1990s, polluting it with their excrement.
In 2014, faced with claims from seal activists that humans were disturbing the animals and in some cases causing them to “flush” — or stampede — into the ocean, potentially killing young seal pups, the San Diego City Council moved to limit access to the beach during pupping season. The beach has been closed from December to May in recent years.
Soon after the ordinance was passed, a group called Friends of the Children’s Pool sued the city and the California Coastal Commission, which had also approved the rule.
The group argued the city had violated the state Coastal Act and the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and in May 2016, a judge in Orange County Superior Court agreed the city had overstepped its bounds and struck down the ordinance.
Even after the ruling, though, the city had been allowed to continue closing the beach during pupping season while its appeal was pending in court.
The appellate court ruled the city was within its rights to protect the seals and was exercising its inherent power to regulate the use of its property.
–City News Service