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Costa Mesa Sanitary District approves funding to test mobile restrooms

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Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members voted Thursday to approve funding for a pilot program for mobile restrooms — similar to this one in San Francisco — to help serve the local homeless population.
(Courtesy of Costa Mesa Sanitary District)

After months of discussing the possibility of providing additional restrooms to serve the city’s homeless population, Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members decided Thursday to put aside funds to test mobile restrooms.

The board voted unanimously to devote $21,500 that would cover half the estimated cost of a six-month pilot program.

The hope, district officials said, is that the city will step in to bankroll the other half.

“This is a baby step, but it is a baby step that we need to do,” said board Vice President Jim Ferryman, who first brought the idea to his colleagues in January.

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The program would entail placing portable restroom stalls on a trailer, creating a pit stop with flexible hours that can be stationed where it’s needed.

A key part of the effort would be retaining a paid attendant to make sure the restrooms are clean, well-maintained and used for their intended purpose, said sanitary district General Manager Scott Carroll.

At the end of each day, the restrooms would be hauled away, cleaned and restocked.

The goal of the program, officials say, is to provide a safe and hygienic place for homeless people to relieve themselves, hopefully reducing instances of public urination and defecation.

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From the sanitary district’s perspective, being able to move the restrooms from place to place would keep any one area from being overly impacted.

Having an attendant present, officials added, would help eliminate drug use and other illegal activities that have occurred in some public restrooms. Those at Lions and Wilson parks were closed in 2015 due to public safety and health concerns.

To help keep costs down, the sanitary district proposes renting mobile restrooms during the pilot program, rather than buying them.

Most of the estimated $43,000 price tag for the six-month program would come from the expected cost of staffing and servicing the restrooms, according to the district.

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A mobile restroom is pictured in Miami.
(Courtesy of Costa Mesa Sanitary District )

The pit stop concept isn’t new. Similar programs have been launched in cities such as Sacramento, San Francisco and Miami.

Sanitary district staff reached out to those cities to get their feedback on the mobile restrooms. Email exchanges included in Thursday’s board agenda indicate that all three found that their programs helped decrease public human waste where the restrooms were stationed.

The district will now set aside its share of the funding and “wait for the city to make their decision on what they want to do,” Carroll said.

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Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens has advocated for a joint program to provide additional restrooms to the homeless and said last month that he hopes to take the idea to the City Council in the near future.

Sanitary district officials say they also will explore grant opportunities or potential partnerships with businesses and nonprofits to help with the program.

The concept also has been discussed with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and Mesa Water District, but both have said they can’t contribute funding to the program, according to the sanitary district.

Sanitary district board President Mike Scheafer praised Ferryman for bringing the concept forward and said he thinks the program would have a positive effect on the community.

“It may be a baby step, but I think it’s going to make a huge difference,” Scheafer said.

luke.money@latimes.com

Twitter @LukeMMoney


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