A San Diego judge said Friday that a rope separating thousands of visitors from a colony of harbor seals on a La Jolla beach must come down for now.
Superior Court Judge Lisa Foster said in a preliminary decision that she did not find evidence to support keeping up the rope at Children's Pool beach beyond the seals' pupping season, which goes from December to mid-May.
Foster had agreed May 16 to keep the pupping season rope up until Friday's hearing. City Attorney George Schaefer says the rope will come down in the next few days.
The decision came in response to a lawsuit from the Animal Protection and Rescue League demanding a year-round rope at the popular cove known as Children's Pool. The group says people have been increasingly harassing the seals and that they need permanent protection.
"We're going to see a lot more seal harassment now," said Bryan Pease, the attorney representing the organization.
The lawsuit is part of a lengthy battle between seal advocates who want the cove to become a marine mammal park someday to protect the seals and residents fighting against any restrictions limiting access to the cove — where a sea wall was built in the 1930s to calm the Pacific waves so children could swim there.
Tensions have spiked since the City Council agreed last May that a year-round rope was needed. The City Planning Commission later denied the necessary permit, ruling the barrier would interfere with beach access in violation of the city's coastal plan. Since then residents on both sides of the issue have manned tables at the cove and rope opponents have set up umbrellas and beach chairs inside the cordoned off area to force the issue.
Foster on Friday denied granting a preliminary injunction to keep the rope up, saying every year the city has erected the temporary barrier during the months the harbor seals give birth and nurse their young and then taken it down and "the seals seem to be OK."
The Animal Protection and Rescue League says the Planning Commission did not have the authority to override the City Council's decision nor did it present evidence to support its denial.
Foster said in her preliminary review that she disagrees that the commission violated city procedure. She asked for more information and set a hearing for July 15 before making a final decision.
She told Pease her job is to narrowly look at whether the commission followed the rules under the municipal code and that it was not her place to decide whether the seals are at risk.
The area is one of only four beaches on Southern California's mainland where harbor seals give birth, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
City attorneys say city policy calls for people and seals to share the beach but that the City Council could revisit the issue in the future.