La Jolla’s jagged coastline is renowned for its natural beauty. Unfortunately, with that beauty comes a strong, lingering stench caused by bird droppings that have accumulated on the rocks over time.
Now, the smell is so bad, Mayor Bob Filner has declared it a public health emergency, and he has vowed to curb the stinky problem plaguing one of San Diego’s biggest tourist destinations.
On Friday evening, Filner announced that a plan for solving the La Jolla odor issues would be put in place following the Memorial Day weekend.
Filner says he’s been working closely with San Diego City councilmember Sherri Lightner on this matter.
The pair has now been told by regulatory agencies that the city can begin implementing a plan that will neutralize the chemicals and organisms – including the overwhelming bird guano – causing the stench permeating the air around the cliffs east of La Jolla Cove.
“We finally have a plan that we think may work! And that’s good, because I was about to go get a bucket and mop, or a big vacuum cleaner and do it myself,” the Mayor said on Friday. “Look, this has just been a stinky mess for too long.”
Back in April, biologists said the odor in La Jolla was, essentially, the smell of success. Environmental protections put in place in La Jolla over the past few decades have brought endangered species back into the coastal town.
La Jolla is a state-designated area of "special biological significance." That means California strictly regulates its waters to protect its abundant marine life, which also attracts birds.
"We're kind of a victim of our own success," said Robert Pitman, a marine biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service in La Jolla during an interview last month.
"We've provided a lot of bird protections so now we're getting a lot of birds. I think we're going to be seeing more of these conflicts come about, and I think we'll have to deal with them on a case-by-case basis. I think there'll have to be compromises all around,” he continued.
In La Jolla, the birds took over the rocks after the city prohibited people from walking there years ago for safety reasons. Since then, there has been little rain to wash away the accumulating bird feces.
Visitors, residents and business owners in La Jolla have said the smell impacts their lives.
George Hauer, who owns the gourmet restaurant George's At The Cove, even launched an online petition regarding the stench, which has garnered more than 1500 signatures. It states: "The cormorant colony at the La Jolla Cove has reached critical mass with their excrement. The smell is overtaking the entire village. The result is a loss of business and a potential public health disaster."
Now, to move the matter along and gain some resolution, Filner has issued an “Emergency Finding” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
Filner’s Emergency Finding states that the bird waste is a public health hazard that threatens public health, safety and welfare.
“Over the course of the years, cormorants, gulls, pigeons, pelicans and other animals have fouled the area such that the stench and odors are constant at the Cove and are, at times, overwhelming,” the Emergency Finding states. “Those who work or live in close proximity to the Cove complain of severe headaches and nausea. The powerful smell often wafts over the entire village commercial district.”
Filner has signed a deal with a company named Blue Eagle to begin the clean-up of the cliffs. On Tuesday, experts will visit the area to take samples from the rocks.
Filner says the plan is to eventually apply a specialized “microbial odor counteractant and cleaner” to the guano on top of the cliffs. The product will “digest” the guano and organisms atop the cliffs and, if all goes as planned, eliminate odors.
The product has been used in the past to address similar odor problems in cities like Sacramento and at the Colorado Springs Zoo, according to Filner.
In La Jolla, the product will be applied in small amounts under the supervision of both a biologist and geologist retained by the city, the mayor said.
The Blue Eagle company will begin applying and testing the product on problem areas in La Jolla on Tuesday. Filner says experts will return to the area for broader clean-up work in early June. Exact dates for the work will be determined soon.