Judge overturns Children’s Pool ban; city to fight ruling

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Tourists visit the Children's Pool in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California, U.S., on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is scheduled to release gross domestic product (GDP) figures on Feb. 28. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

SAN DIEGO – An Orange County judge overturned the city of San Diego’s ban on people going onto the beach at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla during harbor seal pupping season.

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office spokesman said Jan Goldsmith is poised to appeal a court ruling.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Frederick Horn ruled that neither the city nor the California Coastal Commission — which ratified the law as the overseer of the coastline — followed correct administrative procedures with the federal government in developing the ordinance.

Tuesday’s ruling, in the case of Friends of the Children’s Pool v. city of San Diego and the commission, handed a major victory to beach access advocates, who have long argued that the site’s original use as a safe swimming area for youth should be maintained.

The ban was instituted two years ago after instances in which people harassed newborn seals and their mother, and was supported by animal welfare groups.

“The Orange County judge’s decision was in error and went far beyond what even the lawyers briefed,” said city attorney’s spokesman Gerry Braun.

“His decision would require cities to get federal government permission before making land use decisions on the coast where seals congregate,” Braun said. “That is not current law. We will urge the City Council to appeal.”

Bryan Pease, who has represented animal welfare organizations during the years-long dispute, said he filed a request for a temporary restraining order in federal court to prevent the Horn’s ruling from taking effect.

According to Pease, who is running for city attorney, the procedures cited by Horn don’t apply to protective efforts like animal sanctuaries.

The Friends of the Children’s Pool called for the city to take down barriers to public access immediately. From May to December, a rope barrier is kept up to discourage visitors from going near the seals.

The Children’s Pool was deeded to the city in 1931, but the seals moved into the area in the 1990s — leading to the controversy.

According to Coastal Commission staff, water quality is poor in the area because of the seals, so it is not a good place for swimming, anyway. Several nearby beaches with better water quality can be used, some within walking distance, staff say.

Opponents of the ban contend the seal population is exploding and they are not a threatened or endangered species.

The public is still allowed access to the area’s breakwater for walking, fishing or viewing the seals.

Pupping season is Dec. 15 to May 15.