- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SAN DIEGO (AP) - The City Council voted Monday to close a picturesque beach for five months each year after concluding that other efforts to protect harbor seals during their breeding season haven’t worked.

The ordinance, which passed on a 6-3 vote, bans public access to Children’s Pool in La Jolla from Dec. 15 to May 15. People who violate the closure could face misdemeanor penalties of up to $1,000 or six months in jail - or infraction fees of $250 to $500 - along with civil penalties.

The measure, which still needs final approval from the state Coastal Commission, is the city’s strongest action aimed at protecting breeding seals and their pups.

In recent years, a rope barrier set on the sand only set voluntary guidelines to separate beachgoers from the seals. Last spring, the city imposed a nighttime beach closure.

However, seal supporters said the night closure and rope barrier didn’t deter some people from harassing the animals. Last year, they circulated surveillance video showing two women sitting on, kicking and pushing the seals.

“We’re sending a message,” Councilwoman Marti Emerald said. “The people who go poking wild animals need more than education.”

But opponents argued that banning access to the beach would eliminate one of the few safe entry points to the water for divers and others.

The artificial cove, created by a seawall in 1931 and donated to the state, was used as a children’s swimming hole until the seals moved in during the 1990s, beginning a long feud between seal supporters and beach-access advocates.

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