Last week, the state Supreme
Court let stand a lower court ruling requiring the city of San
Diego to dredge a beach in La Jolla. Dredging the beach will
disperse a resident colony of harbor seals. The ruling was in
accordance with the terms of a trust transferring ownership of
the cove from the state to the city of San Diego. The trust
required the city to maintain the cove as a swimming beach for
children; the seals, it was argued, make the conditions
unsanitary. But that contract was made in 1931, decades before
the seals settled in the cove and at a time when there was a lot
less competition for beach space in Southern California.
The way this battle has been
played in the media, it's a people versus animals conflict. A
United Press International headline announced, "Ruling Favors
Humans in SoCal Beach Flap." Yet the article told us that "the
situation pitted animal rights activists who wanted the seals
left alone against city residents." Which group did the headline
deem human? Apparently if you're a Californian who has enjoyed
watching the seals socializing on the beach in La Jolla -- if
you are sorry to see the seals go -- your humanity is in
question because you're an animal rights activist.
You'd think the seal watchers in
La Jolla were vegans wearing pleather Birkenstocks and munching
bean sprouts as they watched from their vantage points above the
cove. But when I was at the beach, I saw mostly families who
looked as if they'd come from far and wide. Kids of every
ethnicity, in predominantly white La Jolla, squealing with
delight as they watched the seals. The kids weren't eating tofu.
The numbers were remarkable, and
maybe that's the real point in a case brought by Paul Kennerson,
the former president of the community association of ritzy La
Jolla. This is not a matter of animals shutting out people. The
animals attract people. But what people?
I won't speculate on the many
hardships for the people of La Jolla when their neighborhood
fills up with seal spectators, but the most obvious one is that
the La Jolla oceanfront is jam-packed with cars other than the
That is not the argument you'll
hear against the seals because that is not a winning argument.
The winning argument is "animals versus people." Or, even
better, "animals versus kids." We shouldn't be surprised when
the decision goes to the kids. And I would agree that in any
sort of real choice between seals and kids, kids should win.
But what about the kids who want
to see the seals? Sure, the San Diego Zoo or Sea World will
welcome them, but some families want to see seals as nature
intended, lazing around a beach, not bouncing balls on their
noses in concrete pools. And not every family can afford the
minimum $15.50 per kid for a day at the zoo. After all, the
California coastline and its animals belong to everybody, not
just those who can afford the median housing cost in La Jolla:
The majority of Americans who
care about animals often lose in the political realm. Now the
law has backed an argument that says kids who want to swim at
the beach are more important than all the others who want to see
the seals. But, of course, the argument wasn't phrased like
that. Politically savvy folks know what arguments will work:
"Whose more important, children or animals?"
But that's a false choice. Most
children love animals. And those of us who love those kids would
like the La Jolla folks to cope with the car congestion and swim
at any other beach when they tire of their swimming pools. Why
not leave this one Southern California beach to the seals -- and
to the kids who love seeing them?