OCTA shuts down restrooms at Newport station, blames vandalism

The locked bathrooms at the Newport Transportation Center.
Pictured above are the restrooms at the Newport Transportation Center on Avocado Avenue in Newport Beach. The restrooms have been locked since Jan. 3.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

An effort by the Orange County Transportation Authority to dissuade vandals from damaging the restrooms at the Newport Transportation Station has dismayed some of the bus service’s riders, who can’t go when they need to go.

On an average weekday, the station on Avocado Avenue serves roughly 500 passengers. Public restrooms and a water fountain were available for use until OCTA made the decision to gate and lock the restrooms on Jan. 3, with officials saying there have been “ongoing concerns” about vandalism and people camping nearby.

OCTA spokesman Eric Carpenter said the decision followed discussions with the city and local law enforcement in an effort to “ensure the safety and security of our passengers, the public and OCTA bus drivers who use the center.”

“The restrooms had become the target of frequent vandalism and even routine cleaning schedules couldn’t keep up with the poor condition in which users of the restrooms left them,” Carpenter said Monday. “They also have been broken into after the transportation has closed for the night. OCTA placed signs on the restrooms notifying the public of the closure two weeks in advance and those signs remain up.”

Part of the interior of the women's restroom at the Newport Transportation Station.
Part of the interior of the women’s restroom at the Newport Transportation Station is pictured. The restrooms have been closed since Jan. 3.
(Lilly Nguyen)

One of the reasons for the closure, Carpenter said Thursday, was that people were overriding the automatic locking system when the restrooms closed each night and were also sleeping inside of them, which became a safety concern.

Carpenter said the closures are indefinite and that OCTA is monitoring the situation, adding that the agency apologizes for inconveniencing passengers who may need to use those restrooms.

“We are doing our best to be a good partner with the city and law enforcement to balance the concerns of Newport Beach residents and businesses with OCTA bus passengers and employees, while always being guided by safety,” Carpenter said.

City officials confirmed in a statement that the discussions have taken place, noting that homeless outreach liaisons visit the site frequently in an effort to provide shelter placement and social services to individuals camping near the station.

Some homeless campers believe there is a concerted effort to blame the restroom closures on them, in order to push them out of the area.

Bryan Woodall, who said he has been homeless for two years, pointed out that while the closures have affected him and other campers, they more significantly impact passengers who can’t leave the site like he and the others can to use facilities at Newport Beach City Hall, where restrooms remain open.

The locked bathrooms at the Newport Transportation Center on Avocado Avenue.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Woodall said at least one of the homeless people, an elderly woman, was also affected because of the distance from the station to City Hall. It’s roughly a half-mile, 10-minute walk between the two facilities.

“In the meantime, people are coming off these buses that are handicapped. People are trying to use the restrooms and they can’t use the restrooms and you get people that are upset and they’re blaming us for it, but it’s not us doing it,” Woodall said. “You’ve got people pissing right in front of the thing and these guys know about it, but they’re not doing nothing about it.”

On a recent Thursday a female bus passenger who declined to give her name said she wanted to use the restroom but couldn’t, while bus drivers could use the restrooms that are reserved exclusively for use by employees. She eventually gave up, saying she felt it wasn’t right to shut out paying passengers.

Gregory Scafferty, 62, sits in his cardboard bed in front of the Newport Transportation Center.
Gregory Scafferty, 62, sits in his cardboard bed in front of the Newport Transportation Center on Avocado Avenue. A group of homeless people said the blame for the restroom closures is being unfairly pushed on them.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Gregory Scafferty, 62, who’s been homeless for nine years, said he felt the decision to close the restrooms and remove the water fountain was inhumane, especially when people like him needed access to clean water to wash their hands to keep from catching COVID-19 or other illnesses.

Scafferty said he felt the OCTA should at least put out portable restrooms for customers if they don’t intend to reopen the restrooms soon.

Mark McAdams, a Newport Beach resident who has been giving out goods to those camping nearby, said OCTA‘s claim of vandalism doesn’t match what he’s observed.

McAdams said any passersby could peek through the gate of the women’s restrooms and see what he described as mold damage.

While he said he isn’t sure if there might be signs of vandalism further inside, he felt the closures were more likely forced by roof damage caused by recent rain. He said he’s seen some passengers approach the restrooms but immediately turn away after seeing the signage.

“The homeless are the least likely to vandalize because they’re the ones that need it. Now, they’ve got to walk ... to City Hall,” McAdams said.

Carpenter said OCTA is aware of the water damage to the ceiling.

“We will look into whether any mold has developed in that area, which is now closed to the public. The water damage was not a direct reason for the restroom’s closure,” Carpenter said.

A woman sleeps along the sidewalk in front of the Newport Transportation Center.
A woman sleeps on the sidewalk in front of the Newport Transportation Center on Avocado Avenue.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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