So, living in San Diego, one pleasure is getting to head down to the coast and walk along the bluffs at Ellen Browning Scripps park in La Jolla. The park is a large open grassy area that folks of all ages use to picnic, play and walk and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. It’s great public access for a part of town that is pretty high rent otherwise.
On the southern end of the park is the La Jolla Children’s pool. Which ever since I moved here, I'd always heard referred to as The Seal Pool. You wouldn’t know it, but this piece of beach has been one of the bigger public debates ever since I moved here nearly a decade ago.
A little history: In 1931, Ms Scripps granted to the state the park and paid for a large, arcing sea wall to be built to shelter children and give them a place to play where they’re protected from waves. The gift was approved by the state legislature and signed by the Governor – notably dictating that:
"said lands shall be devoted exclusively to public park, bathing pool for children, parkway, highway, playground, and recreational purposes".
Fast forward 60 years, when in the 1990s, California Harbor Seals began to haul out and rook at the site. The site began to be closed fairly often for “seal excrement overload”. Kids could often no longer play and swim there. Tempers between pro-kid-swimming and pro-seal-hanging-outing began to rise.
In fact, the whole time I’ve lived here, the disposition of the park has been in the courts. And the reason is that it’s pretty complicated – mostly about who has jurisdiction here. The land was granted for a specific purpose – that’s pretty clear – and ratified by the state – and it shouldn’t matter that it was nearly 80 years ago.
The California Coastal Commission said that the pool cannot be a seal preserve, but advocates say the seals fall under the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act – though they are not particularly endangered. All of a sudden we have eminent domain crashing into local versus state versus federal jurisdiction wrangling! Oy!
Just this week, the Governator signed legislation giving the San Diego City Council jurisdiction over the Children’s Pool, starting in 2010. But not to be pre-empted, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the seals had to be gone – and within 72 hours! The current plan has the city using (and I’m not making this up) recorded barking dog sounds to disperse the seals. The estimated cost (and I’m not making this up either): $700,000 — mostly for round-the-clock security to protect the dispersers and their equipment from pro-seal advocates. Clearly, this is a really bone-headed idea and I think likely to be suspended by a higher court before we really get silly.
As for me, I have a soft spot for the seals (and lets face it, this is because seals are cute – if they weren’t we wouldn’t be having this argument – animal control would be out there in a heartbeat) and would like to think that they should be allowed to stay – or at least have free rein to use the park. Just like any other beach, if it’s too polluted to use, then sorry kids – schlep all the way over to La Jolla Shores for the day, okay?
Of course, given my libertarian leanings –I think about me. What if I had granted the use of some of my land for a specific purpose –- say a tennis center – and then a couple decades later some folks decided that it should be used as a bird sanctuary and decide to convert it. I don’t think I’d be very happy, and might wonder what it would take for me to get my gift back.