Faced with continuing issues with the local homeless population, officials in Costa Mesa have again floated the idea of installing new public restrooms that would provide a hygienic and safe place for transients to use.
City Councilman John Stephens broached the topic during Friday's meeting of a liaison committee made up of representatives from the city, Costa Mesa Sanitary District, Mesa Water and Newport-Mesa Unified School districts.
The agencies, he said, could consider a pilot project to install one or two new restrooms away from parks where families gather. No specific locations were mentioned during the meeting.
"The idea would be to improve the sanitary problem we have and also to draw people out of places where children are," he said.
"I think we need to review different types of these facilities and come up with the one that's going to fit," said Jim Ferryman, vice president of the sanitary district board, who first pitched the idea to his colleagues in January.
Such restrooms could cost upward of $100,000 apiece to purchase and install. Additional resources would also likely be dedicated for maintenance and enforcement, should issues arise.
Ferryman said the goal would be to have fixtures that are functional, but don't lend themselves to loiterers or illegal activity.
"It's got to be a spartan-type of thing that gets the job done, and that's it," he said.
Costa Mesa city officials have grappled for years with drug use and other illegal activities taking place in public restrooms.
"Public toilets historically have had an issue in Costa Mesa, where the places they've been and the way that they've been constructed have been attractants for crime," Stephens said.
He pointed to the restrooms at Lions and Wilson parks, which were closed in 2015 over public safety and health concerns.
"If you could create a public toilet that would be the absolute worst design, that would be it," he said of Wilson's restroom. "It's dark. Cinder block walls go all the way up to the sky. There were a lot of problems in there."
As officials noted Friday, locking up restrooms doesn't eliminate the need for people to go to the bathroom. Without access to facilities, some homeless individuals have been going in public instead.
Mike Scheafer, president of the sanitary district board, pointed out that closing restrooms in parks impacts residents — particularly those with children.
"You know what it's like when a 4-year-old has to go and there's no place to go," he said. "There's going to be a challenge, there, because we do need restrooms in some parks for kids."