Here is how a major dive site can be lost to divers and the public. You may believe your right to access the ocean is guaranteed by the state constitution and the Coastal Act but read on.
Most common information about Children’s Pool is wrong. There was no beach until a sea wall was built in 1931, to make a safe place for children to encounter the ocean. The city allowed it to fill with sand over 60 years, and the “pool” is now buried under eight feet of sand. A gorgeous reef is behind the sea wall, with cracks and undercuts and boulders. Depth is 25 feet max, with a hearty swim to a kelp bed starting at 40 feet. It has lifeguards and showers. Adjacent beaches have rip currents. The City Lifeguard website lists 11 guarded public beaches, half of which have decent diving, and only three have protected entry for beginning divers–La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Shores, and Children’s Pool.
I am the secretary of the San Diego Council of Divers. Almost all of our members wanted the council “to do something about Children’s Pool” as they would want to dive there if they could do so without being harassed, yelled at, intimidated publicly, or worse. Divers who went there were called “seal haters” by screaming animal rights activists, though no seals were harmed and the city had a “Joint Use” policy in place.
Seals had always been in La Jolla, staying on offshore rocks where a single shrug would put them in the water. In 1994, seals began to come up on Children’s Pool beach to lounge fearlessly among people. Baffled authorities had no explanation, but some knew why.
The city was successfully sued to restore Children’s Pool to public use, per its tidelands trust. The city fought for years. Court testimony revealed Sea World marine mammal rescue program had been altered for 11 years to deposit harbor seals directly off Children’s Pool instead of many miles the other direction with the sea lions. The target was nearby Seal Rock just offshore where the City wanted more seals for tourists to see. About 80 percent of the rehab harbor seals from all of San Diego County were diverted. NOAA recorded every release. We have the records. Handfed human imprinted seals who had had people step parents. Wild seals followed their lead and learned humans were tame. The City closed the beach 1999 to 2003 and the herd grew. Public access became legal again in 2003 for the brave.
Since before 2003, San Diego has allowed activists to run a sales and donation table on the sidewalk which took in about $880,000 just in the last three years to “save the seals.” They helped the city lobby successfully to have the Trust altered in Sacramento, adding “marine mammal park” to the Trust’s stipulations. The city was very open about the tourist money it had worried about losing.
To this day, one can calmly walk past seals 20 feet away without them caring, but the activists harass beachgoers off the beach, so nobody sees this. Last year the City awarded itself a permit to put a rope barrier across the beach for six months every year annually forever. It was appealed to the Coastal Commission. Three appeals were heard March 10th in Santa Cruz where we could not afford to go. The local CCC office put together a scathing 14-page staff report that buried us. Got that? A Coastal Commission office mounted a campaign to allow curtailing public access to a beach without an independent study. I submitted more supplementary appeal information and documents, which were buried under a pile of solicited letters from “the public” wanting the seals to have the beach to them. As the Commission was making seal viewing the “preferred recreation,” San Diego was preparing to surpass its triumph.
The city Council committee headed by Donna Frye will now be presenting plans to manage the beach. As chair she defines the agenda items. As in previous years, it would have taken its recommendations from input from the main two animal rights groups, but this time adding one individual, to make a “consensus of both sides.” Others petitioned to suggest plans too. The agenda item now reads:
“4. Consideration of Management Options regarding the LA JOLLA CHILDREN’S POOL under these various alternatives:
A. Make it illegal to access the Children’s Pool during pupping season (5 months)
B. Keep the rope up year round
C. Declare the Children’s Pool a marine mammal park, encouraging MMPA Enforcement.
D. Consideration of Management Options as presented by Friends of the Children’s Pool and the Council of Divers”
We had hoped to get safeguards for other beaches into city plans, but such is not on the agenda. Children’s Pool is about up to capacity. By the time you read this, diving at Children’s Pool may be illegal.
Support your local Dive Council, because alone you are nobody. Face it, 90 percent of the voting public does not care if you ever get in the ocean again. Academics seeking documentation can check www.friendsofhechidrenspool.com.