La Jolla Children's Pool

The protected entry, the outstanding diving, and the onshore facilities (lifeguards, parking, restrooms, telephones) make Children's Pool one of the better shore diving sites in San Diego. This is particularly true for newer divers, smaller divers, divers who have limited mobility, and divers who would find a long surface swim burdensome. Of 11 public beaches listed on the lifeguards web page, only three are noted as safe for beginning divers and classes, one of which is Children's Pool. The influx of harbor seal vigilante activists at Children's Pool has limited diver access for almost a decade. Continued action by the City of San Diego threatens to cut off access permanently.

The San Diego Council of Divers believes continued shared use by divers and seals is possible and reasonable. It is City policy and the goal of the ranger program that was unanimously approved by the City Council. In spite of the influence of lobbying by a special interest group for beach closure, we advocate continured public access to public land with responsible shared access and continued seal protection from harm.


On May 17 2010, the City voted in a special session to accept a motion by Donna Frye taken directly from a lobbying presentation by Animal Protection and Rescue League. That action, accepted 6-2, was to cordon off Children's Pool Beach with a rope barrier every day forever and to make it illegal to go on the beach December to May. The Council of Divers and other beach access groups had spoken at length against it at the meeting. City Councilmember Sherri Lightner of La Jolla added a proposal to accept a donated $79,000 to install a park ranger and docent program which was accepted unanimously.

The year-round rope barrier was to be an emergency permit put into effect immediately. The Council of Divers had pointed out in the meeting that such was not possible under City and Coastal Commission rules. The City Attorney agreed later and advised the Mayor not to pursue the emergency permit, but use standard procedure. APRL sued the Mayor to ignore that advice but lost in court. The Council had supplied the City Attorney with useful documents.

The Perpetual Adivsory Rope Barrier permit was approved in preliminary hearing, but the La Jolla Community Planning Association appealed. That appeal was heard by the Planning Commission on December 9 and the appeal was upheld unanimously. The decision cannot be appealed to the Coastal Commission - the perpetual rope barrier is dead. That perpetual rope was in conflict with the Local Coastal Plan and stipulations in the Coastal Act that vertical access must be preserved, and that means from road to water.

The sister measure, for a legal closure during winter and spring has finally been posted at Children's as a public project, without a beginning date. The City Attorney estimated it will take at least a year of effort and it will appear on the Park and Rec budget for the first time in 2011, for the City to allocate funds. A price tag may make the idea look less appealing to the City.

The Council of Divers joined with other beach access groups to oppose APRL on the sidewalk at Children's Pool and set up information and sales tables and put up signs with the goal of making the situation untenable and getting all illegal signs removed from the area. Success, as yet unfullfilled. In December new rules allowed only 2 sales tables on site, awarded to lottery winners who may ony have signs within reach of the permittee. The lotttery was held Nov 2 and the winners were "Children's Pool Friends" and "San Diego Council of Divers". APRL did not show, and will likely be suing the City over the matter. They currently set up illegally, and sometimes occupy our alloted space, but the City Attorney will not allow the police to enforce the law, yet.

The Council of Divers and Children's Pool Friends have effected a working relationship with moderates on the sidewalk and have provided signs advising the public how to enjoy the beach without bothering the seals. The City signs on the sidewalk were recently updated with input from the Ranger and City Attorney's office. We provided unrequested suggestions which were at first denied, but somehow have crept into the final text. We continue to support the City Shared Use Policy and work with Park and Rec to effect a peaceful transition to law and order on the sidewalk above Children's Pool.

How and Why the Seal Population Exploded

Some years before 1993, a few seals (perhaps four to eight) would haul out on the rocks nearest the Children's Pool breakwater, but they did not cause any problems. Conscientious divers were able to give them a wide berth and still enter and exit the water with ease. Most seals used Seal Rock just offshore from Shell Beach just north of Children's Pool for a rest spot, when the tides were favorable; a spot within easy walking distance for sightseers.

In 1992, Sea World altered its rescue and rehabilitation program to release people-acclimated harbor seals to La Jolla and increasing numbers of harbor seals began hauling out on the sand at Children's Pool. By September 1997, the Children's Pool was closed to the public due to high fecal coliform counts in the water. That allowed seals to think of Children's Pool as abandoned. DNA analysis established conclusively that the contamination was from the harbor seals rather than from urban runoff or a sewage spill. Yet from 1998, the City Council refused to take any real action to deal with the contamination and ensuing closure issue. The depositing of rescued, and hand fed harbor seals from Sea World in the La Jolla area continured through 2003.

The Court Battles

Fed up with the City's inaction, Valerie O'Sullivan sued the City to force it to clean up Children's Pool and return it to public use. At trial, the City had a full and fair opportunity to justify the de facto closure of Children's Pool. The City's arguments were rejected by the Superior Court in a clear and well-reasoned opinion in September 2005. The judge ordered the City to remedy the contamination and return the Children's Pool to its intended purpose. The City appealed. It lost, all the way to the State Supreme Court. Two federal suits to force the City to rope off the beach again using the Marine Mammal Protection Act were denied. Appealed, and denied. The Council of Divers encouraged the City to obey the law and clean up Children's Pool, but the City turned to the legislature to alter the trust to convey the value of that trusted property to the benefit of the trustee, to the detriment of the beneficiaries - the Children of San Diego, and all its residents.
San Diego has managed to make itself responsible for a colony of wild animals on a metropolitan public beach with guaranteed public access built into the Trust and State law.

The Misperceptions of Human and Diver/Seal Coexistence

Divers love seals and wish them no harm. In fact, seals and divers coexisted peacefully for many years at Children's Pool. Seals avoid people on land, but have never been particularly afraid of divers, perhaps because they find us amusingly slow and clumsy. The suggestion that divers have harmed seals in the water is absurd.

Harbor seals will not disappear when Children's Pool is shared as a public beach. The population of harbor seals in California is about 40,000 and increasing. The rate of increase exceeds the very limited contribution of the local seals. The Children's Pool seals also use Seal Rock, the numerous pocket beaches along Point Loma, a known haulout location by the Point Loma Water Treatment facility, and the entire coastline and Channel Islands.There is no scientific evidence to support the speculation that these highly adaptable marine mammals will die, drown, or fail to figure out how to pup without banning people from this shared beach after all theseyears.

The de facto reserve and tourist attraction is convenient and entertaining, as continued contact between people and seals has encouraged seals to lose their wariness of people.

The San Diego Council of Divers encourages open, respectful discussion based on verifiable facts. It supports the peaceful exercise of coastal access rights in compliance with local, state, and federal law. It does not believe that emotional confrontations or demonstrations - whether pro-diver or anti-beach-access - are in the best interest of the community. As a representative of the majority of the diving community, the Council will continue to advocate for divers at public meetings and be a source of information to the public.

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