Latest Casa Beach News:

April 17, 2009
SACRAMENTO — San Diego-area lawmakers appear as deeply divided as the region they represent over the future of Children’s Pool beach in La Jolla.

The state Senate approved legislation yesterday that aims to give the city of San Diego more authority to decide whether to restore the cove for people by chasing away the seals that have taken over the area.

The 30-4 vote sent the measure to the Assembly, where members Nathan Fletcher, a Republican, and Democrat Lori Saldaña, both of San Diego, plan to tag-team the campaign to move the bill to the governor’s desk. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t taken a position on the measure, a spokeswoman said. The bill will be voted on sometime in June.

The bill would amend the city’s original tidelands grant that now designates the beach as a swimming area for children, opening the door for the cove to become a marine mammal park.

San Diegans have been split over the future of the beach ever since harbor seals began taking up residence in the mid-1990s, dominating an area that had been a popular and safe place for children and others to enjoy the ocean.

Votes by the San Diego-area delegation mirrored community divisions. Of the four dissenters, three are local Republican state senators: Mark Wyland of Solana Beach, Dennis Hollingsworth of Temecula and Mimi Walters of Lake Forest.

Wyland called the area “perfect for small children” and recalled how his parents used to take him there. “It was great,” he said.

Said Hollingsworth: “The Children’s Pool was gifted to the children of San Diego. That’s why it’s called the Children’s Pool.”

The bill is supported by San Diego’s Democratic state Sens. Christine Kehoe, who is carrying the bill, and Denise Ducheny.

Ducheny said children have been able to enjoy seeing the seals up close, and the area has turned into an attraction helping local businesses during tough economic times.

The San Diego City Council is under court order to restore the Children’s Pool beach for human use, but cleanup and chasing away the seals could cost as much as $1 million – with no guarantees that the marine mammals will stay away, say those who believe the seals should be allowed to remain. The city has already spent about $1 million on legal fees.

The City Council, which is sponsoring the legislation, argues that its hands are tied because the agreement that turned the beach over to the city requires that it remain open for children.

But a separate federal law could force the city to obtain a permit to remove the seals.

Kehoe’s Senate Bill 428 would change the agreement signed more than 75 years ago. The language would allow the area to become a “marine mammal park for the enjoyment and educational benefit of children.”

That language would remove some legal complications that have kept the issue tied up in court, the council says.

Kehoe argues that the measure merely allows the City Council to make the decision.

Hollingsworth disputes that. “Right now, state law is absolutely 100 percent clear that it is for the children,” he said. “My fear is the children will lose out.”

Fletcher said he’s not taking sides regarding the seals.

“The city is facing a financial crisis,” said Fletcher, disturbed that the council is forced to spend so much on legal bills while at the same time weighing drastic budget cuts.

“My involvement in this is not to say what the city should or should not do, but merely to take action to help save the city money and get it out of the courts,” Fletcher explained.

Saldaña said coastal development is pushing out seals, which have few safe places to give birth. “It just reflects the changing beach area,” she said.

Also, children whose families cannot afford theme parks are learning from having the seals so accessible, she said.

  • “There has been a mini-economic surge because of the tourists,” Saldaña said.
  • “They are an economic plus.”

Here is how the members of the Senate Voted

AYES: Alquist, Ashburn, Benoit, Cogdill,Corbett, Correa, Cox, Denham,DeSaulnier, Ducheny, Dutton, Florez,Hancock, Harman, Huff, Kehoe, Leno, Liu, Lowenthal, Maldonado,Padilla, Pavley, Romero, Simitian,Steinberg, Strickland, Wiggins, Wolk,Wright, Yee

NOES: Aanestad, Hollingsworth, Walters, Wyland

NO VOTE RECORDED: Calderon, Cedillo, Negrete, McLeod, Oropeza, Runner, Vacancy