SAN DIEGO – A judge on Monday gave the city 72 hours to begin chasing harbor seals out of the Children's Pool at La Jolla beach or face heavy daily fines, ruling firmly for humans in a decade-long battle over who should win exclusive use of the cove.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann ordered the city to comply with a 2005 order by another judge to restore the Children's Pool cove to its original condition.
The city plans to hire someone to walk the beach with a public address system broadcasting the sound of barking dogs to scare off the seals, said Andrew Jones, the assistant city attorney for civil litigation.
"There's certainly a lot of emotions revolving around this issue. We expect that this person could be harassed, even physically attacked," he said.
Force cannot be used because the seals are a federally protected marine species.
"We can't harm the seals in any way. Any method we use basically has to be benign," Jones said.
Two police officers will be on hand to prevent interference by pro-seal activists, he said.
The plan, which was created with the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, would cost an estimated $688,000.
However, attorneys for seal supporters said they would file a motion to prevent the animals' ouster and hold a rally later this week.
"The seals need rest each day. If they don't get their rest, their health will be jeopardized and the local community will also suffer a huge economic cost," said Dorota Valli, Seal Watch campaign coordinator. "It's an enormous tourist draw."
Seal proponents would get a boost from the state if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs a measure passed earlier this month by the state Assembly, giving the city control over the fate of the seals. If it is signed by the governor, the City Council would likely declare it a seal sanctuary.
At the pool Monday, about two dozen seals lounged on the sand as throngs of tourists watched them.
One wasn't impressed.
"I don't particularly like them. I think they smell, and I'm not interested in looking at them," said Kees (KAYSE') Hendricks, 60, of Vancouver Island in Canada. "I don't think there should be a whole beach for the seals."
But others said they found local residents' complaints about foul odors from the seals to be exaggerated.
"Well, to me, it's the aroma of the sea," said resident Ken Walsh, 58, a nearby resident who swims in the ocean daily.
"There's a lot of places where the seals are not," Walsh said. "And I think we should feel privileged to be in a spot where people want to come just to see those little seals."
Children's Pool was created by a sea wall built in 1931 through a gift by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. It was donated to the city on condition that the beach become a public swimming area and park.
Seals began showing up in increasing numbers during the 1990s. In 1997, the city posted a warning that the pool shouldn't be used because it was contaminated with high levels of bacteria from seal waste.
Still, some people continue to use it.
The city had favored waiting to disperse the seals until dredging began to restore the Children's Pool, which conceivably would scare off the seals. The city would then have built a berm to keep the animals from returning to the cove.
"I would like the city not to have to spend money at this point, given that we're in a recession," Jones said.
However, the judge ordered immediate action.
"I think we've run out of time," Jones said.
It's unclear what steps the city could take if the plan to scare away the seals fails.
"That's a good question," Jones said in a telephone interview. "Do you have any suggestions?"
Meanwhile, lawsuits by both seal supporters and opponents continue to make their way through the courts.
A federal lawsuit dismissed last week sought to bar the city from dispersing the seals.