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San Diego Stumped On How To Stop The Stink


Something smells rotten in the La Jolla area of San Diego. Bird and sea lion droppings have accumulated on ocean bluffs for years there, creating a powerful stench in the wealthy seaside town. Residents and business owners are so sick of the smell they have now sued the city.

But as Claire Trageser from member station KPBS reports, clearing the air is not so simple.

CLAIRE TRAGESER, BYLINE: When he arrived at La Jolla Cove, tourist Bruce Just was greeted with more than just a view of sparkling ocean water below.

BRUCE JUST: The second I stepped out of the door of the car, I says wow, that's a pungent smell.

TRAGESER: Most locals know the smell is the droppings of sea lions and birds, but the Omaha, Neb., native was unaware.

JUST: Sea lions, really? Well, I'd like to see a sea lion while I'm here.

TRAGESER: That shouldn't be a problem. Dozens can usually be found at the water's edge.


TRAGESER: Three years ago, then-mayor Bob Filner stepped in to fix the problem.


BOB FILNER: You've heard of Independence Day? Well, this is end-the-poop day.

TRAGESER: It turned out it wasn't. Filner couldn't fix the problem because government regulations say cleaning the rocks can't send runoff into the ocean. That means no power washing the bluffs, spraying cleaners on them or scraping the droppings into the water.

Restaurants and hotels line the bluffs, and their owners say the smell is scaring away tourists. So they sued to force the city to find another option.

NORM BLUMENTHAL: The city has a duty to remove the cause of the odor from the rocks.

TRAGESER: Lawyer Norm Blumenthal represents the group called Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement. They came up with solutions, including carting the waste off of the bluffs.

BLUMENTHAL: A slogan was scoop the poop. That's what we called it (laughter) - #ScoopThePoop.

TRAGESER: They also pitched more creative ideas.

BLUMENTHAL: Hire a guru that would be able to talk to the sea lions and convince them to make the rocks not an attractive place to lay on.

TRAGESER: Instead, the city decided to spray a special bacteria that eats the animal waste without creating runoff. So, problem solved, right?

RAY ELLIS: That's not a long-term solution. It's kind of a short-term situation.

TRAGESER: Local resident Ray Ellis has been working on the stench situation. It's a crisp winter morning, and he's out checking on the bluffs. They definitely still smell.

ELLIS: When you boil it all down, though, it really is a quality-of-life issue.

TRAGESER: Ellis says the bacteria isn't sprayed often enough. Plus, spraying costs the city $7,200 a month, a payment that will continue as long as there are sea lions. So Ellis has some other ideas.

ELLIS: Sea lions do not like to be wet when they're out of the water, so we've talked about a misting system.

TRAGESER: Another option comes from the piers in San Francisco.

ELLIS: A line which has PVC pipe on it, so when the sea lions try to haul out, that pipe will spin on a cable.

TRAGESER: ...Sending the sea lions back into the water. But Norm Blumenthal, who's suing the city, says no matter what solution the city chooses, it needs to fix the problem.

BLUMENTHAL: The slogan is, you know, go to La Jolla the most beautiful place in the world, and it stinks.

TRAGESER: That's not a very good slogan, so he will continue his lawsuit until the air over La Jolla is as clear as the view.

For NPR News, I'm Claire Trageser in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Trageser