Court Sets Trial Date for Sea Lion Odor Lawsuit

Residents of the La Jolla Cove are and neighborhood business owners affected by the odor of sea lion feces filed a lawsuit last January against the city of San Diego, demanding that city officials find a solution to the smell. Norm Blumenthal, the attorney representing the La Jolla locals, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that a trial date for the lawsuit has been set for May 1.

The locals, who have issued several complaints about the stench of sea lion feces over the past few years, formed a nonprofit organization called Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement in late 2013. The following January, the group took legal action against the city of San Diego to urge city officials to look for a way to neutralize the odor. However, San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is planning to file a motion to dismiss the suit this month.

Goldsmith’s communications director Gerry Braun told the UCSD Guardian that, while city officials are responsible for resolving issues like this, members of the city council should be able to exercise their own judgment as representatives of the citizens of San Diego without interference.

“The plaintiffs in this case want to substitute their judgment for that of our elected officials and, by filing a lawsuit, are asking a judge to force the city to do something,” Braun said. “The City Attorney’s Office is opposed to a judge ordering the city to do anything, as the city has no legal obligation to change nature.”

When Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement was first founded, sea lions were not the only animals who persistently defecated on the bluffs. The smell that enveloped La Jolla Cove was due to a combination of bird droppings and feces from the marine mammals. The city first implemented use of a microbial solution manufactured by Blue Eagle Products that utilizes bacteria that naturally consume the fecal matter.

Bill Harris, who is a member of the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, told the Guardian that while the microbial solution is still a viable option to eradicate the smell, the department is considering other options and has not yet arrived at a decision.

“We have found the Blue Eagle microbial spray to be an effective nonharmful solution to guano buildup and odor reduction, though it does require frequent reapplication to remain so,” Harris said. “It is possible that we will identify some combination of methods, including the microbial spray, as the most permanently effective choice moving forward.”

Harris added that handling this problem in a manner that is not detrimental to the local marine life is of utmost importance to city leadership.

“San Diego’s coastline and the marine life that inhabit our shoreline and coastal waterways help to define our civic and personal identities,” Harris said. “We have established strong protections for both and are committed to living up to our responsibilities as good stewards of the environment.”