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24-Hour Public Restrooms On Hold In Chico

"Chico >> At this point, there aren’t any plans in the works for establishing 24-hour restrooms in Chico.

There’s no funding identified right now to purchase a 24-hour restroom facility, but city staff is still “brainstorming the feasibility and most appropriate location,” said Erik Gustafson, public works operations and maintenance director.

In January, the city opened the City Plaza restrooms 24/7 to address issues with public defecation and urination downtown. The 90-day trial actually ended a week early because the city could not afford to deal with the level of vandalism taking place, Gustafson said. The restrooms were extensively vandalized, trashed and used for shelter.

A benefit of the program, however, was that downtown businesses noticed a reduction in urine and feces on their stoops.

Councilor Andrew Coolidge said he wasn’t very confident about the trial period to begin with.

“We all wanted it to work. Unfortunately, it’s the case where the actions of the few spoil it for the rest,” he said after an Internal Affairs Committee meeting on Sept. 11.

The city is actually “a little behind the curve” when it comes to the number of public restrooms compared to its growth, Coolidge said. Discussion of potential 24-hour restroom locations should be a priority when the council talks about adding more restrooms down the line, he said, when there is funding available.

“It’s hard to look at this and find an easy solution,” the committee chairman said. “When it works, it helps. When somebody takes advantage and trashes the restroom, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

His original suggestions included placing sinks outside and having doors installed that are a saloon-style to help with visibility and sound. He envisioned a location like the restrooms near Ringel Park, between the Children’s Playground and Collier Hardware.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Katie Simmons emailed a letter to the Internal Affairs Committee, reporting decreased usage of the restrooms of some heavily impacted businesses during the trial. She also included observations made during business walks:

• 24-hour restrooms are needed near downtown to alleviate ongoing sanitation concerns.

• The City Plaza is not an ideal location. Other locations should be considered.

• Other models are better equipped to withstand or deflect vandalism and general wear and tear.

Patrick Newman told the committee at its latest meeting that the City Plaza restrooms have been locked at 7 p.m., two hours too early, for more than a month.

The current hours are 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. City staff said that shouldn’t be happening and that it would address the issue.

Hours were extended in the morning at the request of the Downtown Chico Business Association to alleviate pressure on businesses like Starbucks, which typically have a line outside the door for bathroom use before opening. This comes at no added expense to the city, which already has contracted workers available at that time.

Newman said after the meeting via email that there is a “lose-lose dynamic” in place with this point of view: lock the restrooms and there will be a defecation problem, open the restrooms and the homeless are supported.

“We keep ‘failing’ because we don’t really want to succeed,” he said. “To succeed – with this sanitation issue – is too much like making the homeless welcome.”

Anything less than 24-hour access is “unconscionable,” he said.

Gustafson said the city is going to continue working with the DCBA, Chamber of Commerce and homeless service providers to figure out possible solutions.

One that could be successful is the Portland Loo toilet-kiosk style, but it isn’t cheap: a one-toilet unit alone costs around $100,000, and hooking up to utilities can range from a $20,000-30,000 expense.

Contact reporter Ashiah Scharaga at 896-7768."

Click here for the PDF version of the above ChicoER article.