After almost a year of kicking around ideas, Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members expressed willingness Tuesday to commit funding to provide new public restrooms to help serve the local homeless population, as long as the city also pitches in.
The latest concept is a mobile program that would place portable restroom stalls on a trailer, creating a pit stop that could be moved to where it's needed.
A paid attendant would make sure the facilities are clean, maintained and used for their intended purpose, according to sanitary district General Manager Scott Carroll.
"That is key," he said Tuesday. "Without the attendant, then who knows what could happen inside there?"
A mobile program — which is already used in cities such as San Francisco and Miami — also would help address concerns that installing new permanent restrooms would encourage homeless people to congregate nearby, district officials said.
Sanitary district board members indicated support for the mobile program during a study session Tuesday and directed staff to bring back the proposal for official consideration at the board's Nov. 30 meeting.
At that time, the board will consider whether to set aside $50,000 to cover half the estimated cost to launch the project.
The remainder of the money, district officials said, could come from the city, which for years has documented problems with drug use and other illegal activities in public restrooms.
Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens, who has advocated for a joint effort to secure additional restrooms available to the homeless, said he hopes to take the idea to the City Council in the near future.
"It's a serious health issue, in my opinion, so I will bring it forward," Stephens said Tuesday. "I'm just trying to determine when the right timing is."
Stephens said a program like the one proposed would enable the city and the sanitary district to assess where the restrooms could be placed safely and effectively. The mobile restrooms also would be available for community events, he added.
The idea of new restrooms available to homeless people has been a topic of discussion in the sanitary district since January.
Without access to such facilities, officials say, homeless people have no choice but to relieve themselves in public, possibly creating a health risk.
Sanitary district board member Bob Ooten said providing homeless people with a safe and hygienic option is "a critical need."
"It's becoming more critical with the hepatitis problems," he said, referring to outbreaks of the virus that have struck Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz counties this year.
Should the mobile restroom program move forward, district officials would try to pull in additional support from sources such as Orange County, Costa Mesa's business community and local nonprofits.
"We've got to interface with them and get them to buy in or play some kind of role in this whole thing," said board Vice President Jim Ferryman.