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San Diego mayor declines to declare emergency over seals on La Jolla beach

June 10, 2010 |  7:09 pm

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on Thursday declined to issue an emergency declaration that could have led to immediately restoring a rope barrier to keep people away from seals at the Children's Pool beach in La Jolla.

Instead, Sanders suggested that a permit be sought from the California Coastal Commission, which will allow for the issue to be studied and opposing viewpoints heard. The City Council had urged Sanders to declare the emergency.

For several years, the city has maintained a rope barrier from Dec. 15 to May 15 to protect the seals during the pupping season. But after the rope came down this year, seal defenders alleged that the seals and their young were being harassed by tourists and others.

The issue of the seals at the horseshoe-shaped beach has been an emotional, litigious and political controversy for more than a decade. For reasons of their own, the harbor seals arrived in the 1990s and created a rookery where generations of San Diego-area residents had once picnicked and lounged.

Opposing factions -- one calling for protection of the seals, another demanding the seals be shooed away so people can use more of the beach -- have filed legal actions. A federal court has ruled that the seals have to be protected, but a state court said that the beach is primarily for use by people.

To break the legal deadlock, city officials, increasingly weary of the controversy and the mounting legal bills, received approval from the state Legislature to turn the beach into a marine mammal sanctuary. But the details of how to do that have led to more wrangling.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: A boy watches the seals from the breakwater.

Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times