City Installs Gate in Response to La Jolla Cove Odor Lawsuit

A lawsuit was filed Dec. 24 urging the city to take action against the alleged stench caused by the accumulation of sea lion and bird droppings

The city of San Diego installed a gate at La Jolla Cove Tuesday in an effort to curb the noxious stench plaguing the otherwise picturesque seaside community.

According to a spokesperson from interim Mayor Todd Gloria’s office, a city crew has installed a gate onto an existing white fence at the cove in response to a lawsuit filed on Dec. 24 by the non-profit organization “Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement.”

The complaint, which can be read in its entirety here, claims it’s the city of San Diego’s responsibility to keep the public area free of the offensive smell and the city has failed to do that.

The complaint says the city is to blame due to a white fence erected along the sidewalk that spans La Jolla Cove.

The complaint argues that because people no longer have access to the rocks, sea lions and birds have made themselves at home and are climbing higher up the rocks and bluffs to defecate, creating the foul, lingering odor at the cove.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the popular La Jolla businesses, La Valencia hotel and George’s By the Cove. Owners at both businesses say the stench is a growing issue that is resulting in loss of revenue, and that the city is dragging its feet on fixing the putrid problem.

However, now, with the newly-installed gate, La Jolla Cove visitors will have access to the rocks, which may discourage sea lions and birds from lounging in the area.

Norm Blumenthal, attorney for the La Valencia hotel and George’s by the Cove, said the gate is a positive first step toward resolving the issue. He said the group behind the lawsuit will wait and see what their next move might be based on the effectiveness of the gate.

On Wednesday, La Jolla Cove was full of people admiring the seaside views and sea lions.

Visitors Arelis Machin and Jessica Lauren told NBC 7 San Diego they enjoyed going past the gate and onto the rocks to check out the sea lions – smell and all.

“It’s really cool to get so close to them,” said Machin.

“It was very cool and very smelly,” added Lauren.

Machin said she thinks the new gate feature is fine, as long as spectators are careful.

“People just have to take precaution; not get too close,” she said.

“I think as long as you have common sense – you’re not a nuisance to [the sea lions] and you respect them and listen to the sign, you’re all good,” added Lauren. “That’s their turf. We’re just hanging out and observing.”

La Jolla resident Chris McKellar said he’s been visiting the cove since 1954 and has never seen so many sea lions in the area as there are today.

He said he enjoys watching the animals on sunny San Diego days but the offensive smell can sometimes make the activity a bit less pleasant.

“The effects of the excrement are huge to the community – to people who live here and visit here,” said McKellar.

He hopes the new gate helps curb the issue.

“Hopefully this is going to create a good balance between keeping the [sea lion] population down so the smell isn’t so bad,” said McKellar. “The smell is never going to go away but hopefully it’ll moderate so people won’t be throwing up on the sidewalk. It doesn’t smell that bad here today but I’ve been down here when it smells absolutely putrid.”

The complaint filed in Superior Court last week alleges visitors have become sick as a result of the odor.

On Friday, NBC 7 spoke with visitors at the cove including mother and son Nancy and Michael Garcia, who said the stench was difficult to ignore. Michael, visibly nauseous from the smell that day, became sick during his visit and ran to a nearby bathroom to vomit.

“I can’t go past this point,” said Michael. “It feels pretty bad.”

However, other locals who spoke with NBC 7 that day said the smell was hardly noticeable.

“It doesn’t bother me that much,” said La Jolla T-shirt salesman David Norton. “I guess I’m accustomed to it.”

The stink at the cove has been a hot topic for quite some time.

In the summer of 2013 a private company was hired to spray the rocks with a bacteria to eat away the droppings. Former Mayor Bob Filner rallied behind the cove cleanup efforts, vowing to wipe out the stench in La Jolla.

The 10-day process cost $50,000 and took place in June, several months after the initial complaints began surfacing. Locals had to acquire permits and wait for bird nesting season to end.

About a decade ago, the city of San Diego put up a fence along La Jolla Cove for safety reasons to prevent people from climbing on the rocks. Since then, birds and sea lions have taken over the area, creating the mess causing a stink in San Diego's elite seaside community.

On Thursday morning, the group that filed the lawsuit held a meeting in La Jolla. Blumenthal said that at that meeting, more local businesses signed up to be part of the lawsuit against the city. He said the group plans to file an amended complaint next week that will broaden the lawsuit to make sure other actions beside the gate are taken by the city.

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