by Brett Eckles
Originally published in the Daily Pilot / Los Angeles Times
The Portland Loo made by Madden Fabrication is an example of a free-standing public restroom. The city of Costa Mesa and Costa Mesa Sanitary District are discussing the concept of installing additional facilities for the homeless. (Courtesy of Costa Mesa Sanitary District)
The Costa Mesa City Council was set to vote on a “Pilot Program for Portable Restrooms” at its last meeting. Due to the meeting going past midnight, this item was continued until the next scheduled meeting. Councilman John Stephens requested this item, which would supply mobile restrooms for our homeless population at a cost of $43,000 to be split with the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.
The mobile restrooms would be situated in our community during daytime hours, then removed each night for maintenance. The proposal also would have a volunteer attendant who would be charged with ensuring these restrooms are used for their intended purpose.
While I appreciate the council member’s efforts to bring a potential solution to a very complex issue in our community, this proposal may temporarily help with one issue and create 10 more. I, like others, could agree that a restroom facility dedicated to homeless individuals’ personal needs can be helpful.
The first question though, is where will these be located? I would propose before this is even considered by council that community outreach is conducted throughout our city. I would think a proposal with far-reaching implications, such as portable restrooms in a neighborhood, would be something worth asking residents about prior to placing them.
Instead of allocating tax dollars and human resources to this program, the city should conduct these neighborhood outreaches to our residential and business neighborhoods over the next six months and return to council a more comprehensive and fully vetted plan.
Due to crime and homeless encampments in our neighborhood parks, which also spilled over into the adjacent neighborhoods, the city closed the public restrooms at Wilson and Lions parks several years ago. I would ask, what has changed?
We’ve all read about the struggles that cities and our county are having with homeless encampments and the negative effects to the residents and the homeless population. By bringing portable restrooms into our neighborhoods, are we encouraging even more and larger encampments? How will a volunteer, non-sworn officer manage potential criminal activity at these locations? I imagine the safety of individuals using these restrooms and the safety of residents living near these will become an even bigger problem.
Under this current pilot program, these units will be removed each night for cleaning and maintenance. Removing them at night doesn’t help people who need to use restroom facilities in the off-hours that this program provides. A potential solution for some times during the day will still leave the problem without a solution the rest of the time.
Los Angeles has tried putting out restrooms for the homeless on skid row several times over the years, and many times they were removed due to increased encampments, crime and damage. Is it worth temporarily helping with one issue to create 10 more?
Here in Costa Mesa a temporary answer will leave lasting, negative impacts if this pilot program is put into place in its current form. This proposal is only one of many we need to be looking at.
We need to focus on collective efforts to help those who need and want help. Doing a piecemeal approach really won’t improve homelessness, and our goal really needs to be to help as many people we can to get off the streets into jobs and, eventually, homes.
I feel this last-minute proposal, while made with great intentions, is wrong to proceed with without community input first. We need to listen to our residents and business community and provide complete options before proceeding on a proposal of this magnitude that will affect many.
Please urge our council to vote no to this specific proposal and to receive and file this pilot program until more research and outreach can be done. If this council proceeds without hearing from the community, you may be surprised when you wake up to a bank of restrooms and a line of people across the street from your front door.Continue Reading