By Jenna Frazier/ San Diego News Room / Originally published September 17, 2010
Controversy has surrounded potential management plans for the Children’s Pool at Casa Beach since seals formed a rookery on its shores more than a decade ago. One of the most recent attempts at regulating interactions between humans and seals has been hiring a park ranger using private funds secured by District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s office.
Randy Hawley, who became the city of San Diego’s first park ranger in 1989, interrupted his retirement to supervise the area as a provisional employee while the city searches for a full-time ranger.
“I’ve been a public servant my whole life,” Hawley said. “I’m doing this because it’s an opportunity to once again come back and serve for a worthwhile cause.”
Hawley began patrolling the area in early July, and said he usually spends Saturdays and Sundays monitoring the beach.
“I’ve found that the late afternoon is the best time for me to be there because that’s when the seals start to come up on the beach,” he said.
Based on the City Council resolution passed in May, Hawley said, his job is comprised of three main responsibilities: public outreach and education on the beach itself; evaluating and revising the signs surrounding the area; and creating a docent program to assist the ranger.
“The beach is open to public use and we don’t restrict anyone’s access as long as they are partaking in normal beach activities,” Hawley said. “My job is to primarily inform people how to best interact with or observe wildlife.”
Hawley said he receives mostly positive responses from visitors who come to see the seals.
“People don’t want to hurt the seals, or to be malicious and flush them into the water,” he said. “Those things happen because they don’t know any better. If we teach people the proper way to behave, it minimizes the impact to the seals and increases the public’s enjoyment of the seals themselves.”
However, he added, there have been some hostile encounters.
“I would say 98 percent of the people I deal with seem to be glad I’m there, whether it’s to allow people to go on the beach without being harassed or to create a buffer for the seals,” he said. “There are supporters on both sides and a small number of detractors on both sides. I’ve been confronted and berated by both, which I guess means I must be doing my job.”
When it comes to controversy surrounding plans for the pool — including a year-round rope barrier — Hawley said he checks his opinions at the door.
“I’m a hired gun,” he said. “Whatever the City Council and mayor decide to do, whether it’s myself or a subsequent ranger, we’ll follow the policies that are set to the best of our ability and leave our personal feelings at home.”
Drafts for new signs — which will describe permissible activities, proper behavior while seals are present, a water quality advisory and historical and cultural information — have been submitted to the director of the city’s Park and Recreation Department for review.
SeaWorld will also review the signs for technical accuracy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to verify that the legal wording meets the requirements of federal law.
Hawley said he expects the signs to be installed near the beach within 30 days.
He also said that the city has begun accepting applications and is conducting interviews for the full-time ranger position.
“It’s possible that someone could be in place by the end of fall or early winter,” he said.
Some members of the community have argued that the ranger program is ineffective because his presence on the beach is limited. While it is still “unreasonable” to expect the subsequent full-time ranger to spend 40 hours on the beach, Hawley said, the docent program would help supplement coverage.
“A lot of the new ranger’s responsibility will be to coordinate the docent program,” Hawley said. “That’s when you would have an expanded official presence on the beach.”
He added that the program — which will be comprised of unpaid volunteers — is still in the initial phases.
“We’re going to be very selective when hiring docents,” he said. “We will only accept people who are well-trained and understand the political situation, but do not have a personal stake in it.”
Though it has come with its share of trials, Hawley said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve at the Children’s Pool.
“In my 30 years as a ranger, this has been the most challenging job assignment I’ve ever had, but by far the most rewarding,” Hawley said. “I’ve probably been thanked and had my hand shook for just doing my daily routine more than at any other time in my career.”
Hearing officer approves year-round rope barrier
Despite a recommendation from the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), city hearing officer Ken Teasley approved an amendment to the Coastal Development Permit yesterday, Sept. 15, to allow the rope barrier at the Children’s Pool to remain in place year-round.
Teasley also rejected the idea that the rope should be subject to analysis by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The barrier is currently in place from Dec. 15 to May 15 during seal-pupping, or breeding season. The rope serves as a visual guideline to suggest a safe distance between humans and seals rather than an actual barrier, and is not intended to limit beach access.
Teasley’s decision is appealable to the city Planning Commission. LJCPA President Joe LaCava said the group will consider whether to file an appeal.