Sunday, December 2, 2012

Traveling Amid Controversy

Our drive to La Jolla, just north of San Diego, was meant to be nothing more than a few minutes by the ocean and a drive up Mount Soledad.

We were fortunate to find a parking spot near the park near Children's Beach. The walkway along the beach took us past artists
and the scenes they and photographers selected as subjects for their work.

Among the inhabitants of this beautiful setting were shorebirds, including this pelican
and harbor seals. And it is this latter group that is at the center of a controversy regarding the use of Children's Beach, which attracts some 80,000 visitors each month.

Children's Beach, or "Casa Beach," is a small cove beach created years ago for the children to experience the beach in an enclosed section. What became a safe-haven for children also became a natural attraction to seals.

"The proximity of visitors often alarms a seal colony. If the seals go into the water for safety, their important resting time is disrupted and pups can become separated from their mothers. Eventually, chronic disturbance and its resulting flushing of the seals may result in a reduced birth rate and even abandonment of the haul-out sites (shoreline areas where the seals, on a regular basis, haul-out of the water and rest) altogether.
"There are two opposing sides on the battle of beach access rights, the ‘shared use’ group and the ‘joint use’ group. ‘Shared use’ of the beach is advocated for by those who wish the area to be secured for the seals. It involves allowing seal watching from the coastal wall and protecting the seals hauled out on the beach.

"Alternatively, others who wish to use the beach and water for recreation and swimming propose a ‘joint use’ policy, claiming that the seals will simply haul out elsewhere.

"This is disputed by those that wish to see a protected area for the seals who state that nearby rocky haul-outs are subject to large surf during pupping and nursing season. ‘Joint use’ of the beach is considered tantamount to forcing the seals to leave the area by the ‘shared use’ group" (
We moved on to Mount Soledad, the second site of an on-going controversy. The views were exceptional--to the west and the Pacific Ocean
and to La Jolla Shores and other points to the north.

Atop Mount Soledad is a 29-foot cross on top of a 14-foot-tall stepped platform--and the subject of a multi-year controversy.

It was installed in 1954, and from 1954 to 1989 it was described as the "Mt. Soledad Easter Cross" after which the name of the legal location on the map was changed to the "Mt. Soledad Memorial."
In addition to the Latin cross, the memorial includes six concentric walls holding black granite plaques engraved with the names and photos of war veterans. It was originally dedicated as a Korean War Veterans Memorial, but now also honors U.S. veterans of World War I and World War II.
But what has been the focus of court battles over the past couple of decades has been what has been called "an excessive entanglement of government with religion."

In the January 2011 ruling, Justice M. Margaret McKeown wrote, "By claiming to honor all service members with a symbol that is intrinsically connected to a particular religion, the government sends an implicit message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community."

(

But as I walked along the granite plaques I had the same reaction as finding the name of my college roommate on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. When a name or a face is associated with casualties of war, the impact or war is more powerful and sobering than any statue could represent.

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