Operators overseeing a single-stall prefabricated toilet that reappeared in East Village two weeks ago are already struggling to keep them open.
The so-called “Portland Loo” has seen setbacks since its opening on December 2including a broken lock and vandalism that affected the water service. The association overseeing the toilets told the city it was planning improvements to discourage future closures.
The first problems with the facility – which the developer of the Park and Market project has promised to install in a deal with the city – are the latest evidence of the challenges the city faces as it tries to provide more toilets. public. Mayor Todd Gloria’s team recently revealed their intention to place public toilets within a five-minute walk of all downtown neighborhoods following a Voice of San Diego story detailing the city’s longstanding struggles with access to toilets. In order to achieve the new goal in practice, it will be necessary to ensure that the toilets that the city already has are accessible.
While most of the toilets the town has added in recent history are pot-à-pots flanked by security guards and additional lighting, she demanded that bathrooms be incorporated into projects such as the Fault Line Park and Park and Market projects.
In these cases, private groups – not the city – are responsible for maintaining and securing public toilets in East Village.
Accessibility issues and vandalism plagued both toilet sites.
The Park Boulevard and Market Street washrooms integrated into the downtown UC San Diego offices and residential tower development have been on lockdown since at least Saturday. The washrooms were locked when the Voice of San Diego visited on Monday afternoon. The facility was unlocked on VOSD’s next visit on Wednesday, but the toilets were filled with soiled clothing that made them unusable and graffiti covered two walls of the facility. About two and a half hours later, the toilets had been cleaned and reopened, but a lawyer who visited on Wednesday evening found they were locked again at 7.20 p.m.
That lawyer, Matthew Kearney, recently visited downtown public toilets almost daily to assess their availability – sometimes up to twice a day.
Kearney, a former homeless man, told VOSD he rarely found the toilets open when he stopped.
“I couldn’t access it 90 percent of the time, so it’s basically worthless,” Kearney said. “If it’s not accessible 90% of the time, it’s not very practical. “
He concluded that the facility would need “constant maintenance” to remain open and usable.
Brent Schertzer, managing director of fleet and market developer Holland Partner Group, recognized the challenges.
“Since reopening on December 2, our maintenance team has been on-site almost daily to resolve various issues resulting from misuse that has required us to clean or make repairs to get the washroom back up and running. We remain committed to maintaining and operating the facility, ”Schertzer wrote in an email. “When the Loo are locked, it is because they are dangerous, unclean, non-operational or during the closing hours from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.”
Schertzer and a city spokeswoman said the Park & Market Condominium Master Association – rather than the developer or the city – is ultimately responsible for repairs and monitoring the facility.
City spokeswoman Ashley Bailey said the property management company, which has not responded to multiple VOSD inquiries, has started upgrades to make toilets more durable and minimize closures futures. This work will be carried out gradually over the next few days.
“The goal is to have stronger fixtures to deter the destruction of any part of the toilet,” Bailey said.
So far, the city has not been approached.
The two toilets at the nearby Fault Line park have faced similar challenges – and accessibility complaints.
Pinnacle International, the developer behind a two-tower apartment project which included the park and the restrooms, wrote in a statement that he began locking down the two restrooms at the Fault Line park after “extensive and repeated damage resulting in frequent closures” shortly after the restroom opened there. is about five years old.
“This damage included the destruction of fixtures and plumbing, the insertion of foreign objects into the plumbing, flooding, graffiti and other unsafe sanitary conditions that impact the use of bathrooms and facilities. adjacent restaurant operations, which have been repeatedly forced to close, ”the developer wrote.
Those wishing to use these restrooms recently had to report a security guard who was also responsible for patrolling the rest of the 1.3-acre park so they could unlock the washroom doors.
Kearney said he spent about 20 minutes monitoring security at Fault Line Park Wednesday night during restroom hours. Earlier this week, Kearney said he walked into the lobby of a Pinnacle apartment to try and locate a security guard and the guard who came to help him told him he shouldn’t go back into the hall for this purpose.
After VOSD informed the developer of the difficulties finding security guards to unlock the toilets, Pinnacle said it decided after those comments and conversations with the city to post a sign on Thursday with a phone number for visitors. of the park can call if they wish to use the restrooms. but don’t see the security guards.
Both at Pinnacle, the park and the market, security guards are not systematically stationed in public washrooms. They are responsible for monitoring more important developments.
Experts say facility security or station attendants offer tighter oversight that can prevent closures, vandalism and other safety issues often associated with public restrooms.
Mike Stepner, former city architect and professor of architecture and urban design at the NewSchool of Architecture & Design, previously told VOSD that attendants who watch toilets but are not security guards can be particularly helpful.
“I think you need an attendant to make sure that (public toilets) are not being used for any other purpose,” Stepner said. “This is the European model.
Former city councilor Marti Emerald, who years ago championed the city’s first stab in Portland Loos, said the city of Portland is hiring homeless people to take care of toilet maintenance .
Although the city has not hired homeless residents to help with the toilets, it has concluded that security and lighting are necessary to ensure access and safety.
Bailey told VOSD that recent costs for the new port-a-pot sites that incorporate security guards and lighting have totaled around $ 30,000 per month per location. About 80 percent of the cost is for armed security guards around the clock.
But the city has not extended these safety and lighting requirements to foreigners who agree to provide toilets.
Instead, the city is focusing on accessibility.
Bailey said the city is “actively working” with Fault Line Park property managers on availability issues and has also been in contact with those in charge of the Park and Market project.
“If the developers do not fulfill the responsibilities of their agreements, the city will do everything possible to correct the situation,” Bailey said.
Pinnacle acknowledged these recent conversations with the city and said it has long since increased the frequency of cleaning and maintenance and provided increased security.
“Unfortunately, these enhanced services have ongoing costs that were never factored into our first conversations with the city,” Pinnacle wrote in the release.
Homeless advocate John Brady, who once lived on the streets and now sits on the city’s homeless plan governing board, said he believed the maintenance procedures of the operators of public toilets should recognize the high demand for these resources.
He also believes the city – rather than private groups – should take responsibility for the toilets and noted that the city’s port-a-pots have recently been still accessible and operational.
He was concerned that the association overseeing the Portland Loo would end up making the facility less accessible in an attempt to increase security and maintenance concerns, as Pinnacle International did.
“I think they’ll eventually drop out a lot like Fault Line Park,” Brady said. “I think the responsibility for its operation should lie with the city. “
Bella Ross contributed to this report.