City of San Diego Announces Year-Round Closure of Point La Jolla

Valorie Hirsch | April 15, 2023

With a lack of resources to keep visitors to Point La Jolla safe, the current seasonal closure from May 1 through October 31 will be replaced with a year-round closure.

safety and caution signs posted at point La Jolla warning visitors of no dogs, rip currents, and not approaching seals

Point La Jolla is a popular and prominent headland between La Jolla Cove Beach and Boomer Beach that is most known for barking sea lions and that all too familiar smell in the air. The area has become a mainstream tourist destination, drawing crowds to see these goofy animals up close. But, most importantly, Point La Jolla is where sea lion mammas come for their annual pupping season, and new sea lion babies are born.

Wildlife interactions a concern for public safety

The popularity of seeing sea lions has increased over the years. It has brought an increase in risky and controversial wildlife interactions. Footage of tourists stepping over barriers, ignoring signage, taking selfies, and sometimes trying to pet the sea lions and seals are shared across social media feeds.

The access to record and share such violations may have contributed to this rise in awareness and concern for public safety.

Efforts to keep the public safe and the animals undisturbed include the seasonal closure, concrete barriers, signage, and a chain across the wooden staircase that leads down to the rocky bluffs. According to city officials, however, it hasn’t been enough, and the resources needed to enforce the area full-time, year-round, just aren’t available.

Rangers make their rounds to patrol different areas of the coastline, as well as an all-day assignment at Point La Jolla during the seasonal closure. Volunteers inform and educate visitors while doing their best to enforce the closure gently but aren’t expected to confront visitors forcefully.

In early January, the staircase that leads down to Point La Jolla was damaged by hard-hitting winter storm events causing the temporary closure of the stairs, which is why the chain went up. During this temporary closure, the area saw less traffic down to Point La Jolla, which pleased city officials. 

Visitors ignore barriers

However, visitors were still stepping over the chain to access the bluffs and get closer to the sea lions. Carol Toye with the San Diego Seal Society tells us that “tourists are used to being guided in these areas with guide ropes or barriers, and in the absence of them, they think it must be safe to approach them.”

She says they are often asked, “Where can we pet the seals?” confirming that a portion of the public indeed thinks it’s safe to interact with these large mammals. The San Diego Tourist Authority says that around 10 million visitors annually come to La Jolla specifically to see the sea lions and seals. The Seal Society stresses that “it’s not possible to educate everyone or have enough signs to make a difference.”

Recognizing the ongoing threat to human safety, the California Coastal Commission recommends and supports the year-round closure, suggesting the amendment to the current closure be completed by the end of the upcoming sea lion pupping season on October 31. 

Once amended, the city will continue to enforce the closure and improve and enhance its efforts. The chain across the staircase will be replaced with a gate with signage indicating the stairs are not for public use. 

Plans to install cameras and surveillance were also outlined in the long-term plan and a robust volunteer program that will provide the public with wildlife education and guidance around safety and viewing guidelines.

caution sign, red and yellow caution tape, and a chain warn visitors about closure of the point La Jolla area

Officials reassure the public that the intention behind the original seasonal closure, and now with the proposal to update the closure to be year-round, is public safety, first and foremost.

After years of enforcement efforts and continued incidents between wildlife and humans, city councilman Joe LaCava of District 1, who oversees La Jolla, believes the year-round closure is the only feasible option at this time. LaCava tells the La Jolla Light that the year-round closure would include the bluffs overlooking Boomer Beach. 

What the year-round closure includes

Carol Toye explains that while access to the approximate 150 yards of coastline at Point La Jolla will be part of the year-round closure, there will be limited ocean access to the area, with entry and exit of the ocean allowed for spearfishermen and experienced body surfers only.

Beachgoers will not be allowed to access the beach once the closure goes into effect. The closure does not affect La Jolla Cove or the Children’s Pool.

In a presentation before Coastal Commissioners on March 9, the Seal Society Chair Robyn Davidoff shared that “over 90% of visitors surveyed and most of the rangers assigned to the area agree” with the solution to keep the viewing of the sea lions limited to behind the wall and boardwalk.

A solution that they agree is the safest for humans and wildlife while offering a relatively close and unobstructed view of the sea lions. 

The debate continues, however, with community members, city officials, and wildlife advocates being divided on either side of the issue.

Keeping the seasonal closure as-is would cover the six-month-long sea lion pupping season, which occurs during the busiest months of tourism, but access to the Point outside of the closure would continue to pose a risk to both humans and animals.

Then there are community members who would prefer if the closures were lifted altogether, returning the unlimited and unrestricted access back to the public, implying that it’s what La Jolla’s founders would have wanted.

Officials and advocates in support of the year-round closure recognize there’s a delicate balance between preserving coastal access, recreation, and protection of marine mammals and other wildlife, but that human safety comes first. City representatives say they are committed to reducing human and wildlife conflicts and improving the visitor’s experience. 

Mammal Protection Act

Marine mammals also have legal protections under the Mammal Protection Act and California and city ordinances, so while human safety is a top priority, it isn’t the only thing being considered. The act protects animals like sea lions and seals from being disturbed or harassed.

The act defines harassment as “any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance which has the potential to injure a marine mammal in the wild, or to disturb a marine mammal by causing disruption of behavioral patterns which includes, but is not limited to migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.” 

What’s next

City officials also say that the closure could be revisited periodically and potentially make adjustments to the closure terms. Those who want an opportunity to share their voice before the Coastal Commission’s final approval can do so at an upcoming hearing yet to be scheduled, so stay tuned.

Councilman LaCava estimates the amended permit could be approved as early as the end of October when the current closure would ordinarily end.

With the upcoming sea lion pupping season beginning on May 1, Carol Toye with the Seal Society encourages visitors to review the Sierra Club’s sea lion and seal viewing guidelines.

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