Coastal Commission unanimously approves year-round closure of Point La Jolla

Elisabeth Frausto | September 8, 2023

The California Coastal Commission voted to approve the year-round closure of Point La Jolla at its Sept 7 meeting with conditions to limit the permit term to seven years.

The approval also notes a condition of implementing a monitoring plan and increasing signage with stronger wording. 

San Diego City Council will hold the final hearing to amend the San Diego municipal code on Monday, Sept 18.

Point La Jolla is closed seasonally from May 1 to Oct 31, according to the Staff Report submitted to the Coastal Commission, during California sea lion season to keep people away from the sea lions hauling out to rest on the rocks.

The commission approved the seasonal closure in April 2022; the city of San Diego has asked for the extension to a year-round closure “in response to conflicts between the public and sea lions that have occurred outside of the seasonal closure,” the report states.

“People … act in ways that disturb the animals and put visitors in danger,” said commission program analyst Melody Lasiter.

The closure would not affect public access to the adjacent La Jolla Cove to the east or Boomer Beach immediately south.

Though sea lions are neither threatened nor endangered, hauling out sites provide a “valuable habitat for the sea lion life cycle that warrants protection,” Lasiter said, adding the sea lions at Point La Jolla are “more vulnerable to harassment by the public” than at other sites due to the high potential that a large number of people will attempt to interact with the animals there. 

“The seasonal closures really demonstrated how much more effective it is to control the crowds that want to come out and see this amazing site along our coastline,” said San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla. 

“The seasonal closure provided the city with a more effective tool to reduce harassment.… No instances of sea lion harassment were reported by park rangers for the 2022 seasonal closure,” Lasiter said.

The year-round closure would be the best method to continue preventing sea lion harassment, said Carol Toye, member of the Sierra Club Seal Society, as it would enhance public safety “by providing a clear boundary.”

The seasonal closure has also shown “other positive environmental impacts,” Sierra Club Seal Society Chair Robyn Davidoff said. The benefits include less erosion of the sensitive coastal habitat, regrowth of native plants, and an increased presence of gulls, pelicans, and other creatures. 

“We need to strike a balance between the need for public access and the need to protect marine life,” said Phillip Musegaas, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper. “I think this proposal certainly strikes that balance.”

Not all in attendance supported the closure, however, though only four of the 20 speakers were opposed.

With the seasonal closure, the adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps has become “a mass of selfie tourists, trampling the grass,” said ocean access advocate Kurt Hoffman.

“The pollution [from sea lion effluence] going into the ocean is quite dramatic,” he added. “The current solution is not satisfactory.”

“We are strongly opposed to any plan that closes or threatens to close local beaches and prevent access to the shoreline for the public,” said Bob Evans, president of La Jolla Parks & Beaches. 

“The local community has been left out of dialogue with the city, and collaboration amongst all stakeholders here has been severely lacking,” he said.

The commissioners, however, unanimously voted for the year-round closure, with Commissioner Gretchen Newsom asking that the wording of the signage be strengthened.

The seasonal closure currently entails a K-rail barrier barring access to Point La Jolla but creating an open path to adjacent Boomer Beach, signage, and a chain at the top of the access stairway at the north end.

The year-round closure would also install a permanent gate at the top of the access stairs.

“I’ve witnessed the onslaught of harassment from tourists, visitors and residents alike,” Newsom said, “and when they see signs that say, … ‘area closed’ or ‘warning,’… it gives people the impression that … it’s okay.”

Newsom argued for signage that includes “‘no trespassing,’ ‘government property,’ ‘you will be fined,’” she said.

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