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Judge says La Jolla seals must go; governor says otherwise

July 20, 2009 |  8:49 pm

A Superior Court judge Monday ordered the city of San Diego to shoo the harbor seals off the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla by Thursday.

But within hours, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will allow the city to declare the beach a marine sanctuary and allow the seals to remain.

An attorney representing the pro-seal faction in the two-decade dispute pitting seals vs. children is seeking a restraining order from a federal judge that would block the city from removing the seals.

And Mayor Jerry Sanders, saying the city is prepared, albeit reluctantly, to abide with the Superior Court judge’s dictum, pleaded with both sides in the dispute to remain civil.

The day’s seal activities began with Superior Court Judge Yuri Hoffmann declaring, as he has done in the past, that the 1931 deed from the state to the city requires that the beach be maintained as a place for children.

Hoffmann said he was not prepared to wait to see if the governor would sign by a bill passed by the Legislature and sponsored by state Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego).

Within hours, however, the governor had signed the bill. Earlier he had vowed not to sign any bills until the deadlocked Legislature passed a budget. The bill amends that 1931 deed to eliminate the requirement that the beach be maintained for humans.

The City Council, after paying more than $1 million in legal fees over the issue, is eager to walk away and escape further payments.  SB428 is meant to allow the city to do that.

Attorney Bryan Pease plans to inform the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals about the governor’s action, in hopes that it will convince the justices to issue an order blocking Hoffmann’s order to disperse the seals.

The city plans to use a public address system to blare out the sound of dogs barking in hopes of convincing the seals to slither back to the ocean. The cost of keeping the seals off the beach has been estimated at $700,000 a year, including the salaries of police officers to protect city employees controlling the public address system.

For decades the tiny beach was a favorite of families, offering clean sand and a protected cove. But two decades ago the harbor seals decided to make the beach their resting and pupping place. Their feces has made the beach unusable for humans but watching the seals has become a tourist attraction.

The dispute has led to a standoff between the Superior Court, seeking to enforce the 1931 deed, and the federal court, pointing to federal laws protecting harbor seals from being harassed.

Under Hoffmann's ruling, the city has 72 hours to disperse the seals into the water.

 -- Tony Perry in San Diego