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Costa Mesa Sanitary District approves $50,000 for restrooms at temporary city homeless shelter

Costa Mesa Sanitary District approves $50,000 for restrooms at temporary city homeless shelter
Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate $50,000 to provide restrooms at a temporary homeless shelter under development at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene, pictured. (Photo by Luke Money)

Almost a year after a similar-sounding proposal was left circling the drain, Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members agreed Tuesday to help the city provide restrooms to serve the local homeless population.

This time, the idea isn’t to move the restrooms from place to place but instead station them at a temporary 50-bed homeless shelter under development at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene.

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The sanitary district board unanimously approved $50,000 to fund six portable restrooms on the church property at 1885 Anaheim Ave. and help cover associated maintenance, operations and security costs. The shelter there is expected to open in April and operate for roughly a year before moving to a longer-term location, potentially at 3175 Airway Ave., according to city officials.

“We commend the Costa Mesa City Council and city staff for their tireless efforts to address the countywide homelessness crisis and to help our homeless population here in Costa Mesa by identifying and providing the facilities, housing and services for those in need,” board President Jim Ferryman said in a statement shortly after the meeting. “The Costa Mesa Sanitary District is proud to partner with the city in finding solutions to this crisis, because it’s going to take a collaborative effort from everyone in the community to solve homelessness in Costa Mesa.”

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Sanitary district officials first broached the possibility more than two years ago of installing additional public restrooms that would be available for homeless people. The hope was that doing so would provide them a safe and hygienic place to relieve themselves and help improve community health and sanitation by reducing public urination and defecation.

The idea eventually crystallized into a proposed mobile-restroom program in which portable toilets, watched over by attendants, would be placed on a trailer so they could be stationed wherever needed. In November 2017, the sanitary district board voted to allocate $21,500 to cover half the estimated cost of a six-month pilot program.

However, the City Council demurred on joining the endeavor in February 2018, saying the concept needed additional study and outreach. The sanitary district abandoned the proposal the following May.

Though the sanitary district board unanimously supported the restroom plan this time, at least one member clearly had the previous go-around in mind.

“Last time we proposed something like this, we were chastised pretty heavily by a member of the City Council,” board member Mike Scheafer said Tuesday. “So that’s still in my thought process.”

However, he added, “if you look at our mission statement, it talks about the public safety and, to me, this directly affects public safety.”

The fiercest criticism the last time came from then-Councilman Jim Righeimer, who during a hearing called the sanitary district officials who supported the proposal “freaking idiots.”

Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens, who worked with the sanitary district on the previous proposal, said Tuesday that “it’s a new world at City Hall.”

“We now have a new City Council … and we’re together on this,” he told the district board.

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