During the past 15 years, seals have taken over La Jolla’s Casa Beach. The beach that was established as a swimming area for children in 1930 became a hotspot for seals to “haul out” and rest. By 1996, Casa Beach had more seals than the preserve on Seal Rock or any nearby shore.
In 2005, former La Jolla resident Valerie O’Sullivan filed suit against the city for neglecting to maintain the beach as a children’s pool. The state agreed with the plaintiff, ordering the city to chase away the seals, clean up the beach, and restore it back to the way it was in 1941. A subsequent appeal by the city was denied.
From those court cases alone, the city spent an estimated one million dollars in lawyer fees to attorney Paul Kennerson, the lawyer representing O’Sullivan.
Meanwhile, as the city looked to restore the beach, a local animal-rights group filed a federal lawsuit in which a judge ordered the city to leave the seals alone.
On Tuesday, February 17, the city council heard a resolution to support an amendment to state law that would allow marine mammals to inhabit Casa Beach, ultimately giving the city discretion on how the beach would be used and ending the lawsuits. Earlier this week, Mayor Sanders pledged his support for the resolution.
“It is not before us whether to use this property for seals or for children’s use -- that’s not the issue,” said city attorney Jan Goldsmith in an opening statement. “The issue is between an extensive and never-ending lawsuit and no extensive and never-ending lawsuit; between a judge making a decision, sometimes conflicting with other judges...and there has been six different judges in this matter versus the city council and the mayor making the decision. There are no limits on cost and no budget priorities. This proposal is a way to end the lawsuit.”
Attorney Kennerson was the first to speak to the issue. A few minutes into his speech, he warned the city about not honoring the state judge’s decision. “The litigation has been expensive…and I before anybody want the bleeding to stop. If this council thinks that the troubles are over with this proposed change, I’m telling you -- it is not a threat, it is not a prediction, it is a fact of life -- that the troubles will only be started.”
Kennerson didn’t sway the city council. The vote was 7 to 1 in favor of the resolution. Councilmember Sherri Lightner, La Jolla’s representative, was the only "no" vote. She didn’t approve of the process and wanted to include potential children’s uses for the beach in the resolution.
Now, with both the city council's and Mayor Sanders’s support, the resolution goes to California state senator Kehoe’s office to be introduced in Sacramento.