In 2014, the City of San Diego welcomed a sophisticated new addition to San Diego’s waterfront for tourists and others arriving by bay. This new addition was an 816-square-foot stand-alone restroom that cost $2 million and was designed with a seagull theme that referred to a popular 1970 novella about a seagull. Fast forward three years later and, thanks to a hepatitis A outbreak that killed 20 people and has sickened more than 500 others, some people are starting to question whether the region’s priority should have been more downtown restrooms, rather than stylish ones. Hepatitis A has been spreading because of unsanitary conditions, particularly among San Diego’s growing homeless population who lack access to proper facilities. Homeless advocate Anne Rios of the San Diego-based nonprofit Think Dignity states,
The city should be beautiful and welcome tourism to boost our economy with the money that it brings, but at what expense? I think our city places emphasis on those who have as opposed to those who have not.
Officials cited cost in rejecting the recommendations to build more downtown restrooms, even as they planned and executed the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan that included the seagull-themed restroom. As far back as 2000, the city was warned repeatedly that human waste on city streets was a problem that threatened public health, and that there was a shortage of 24-hour public restrooms available to the city’s growing homeless population downtown. In 2005, city officials rejected a grand jury recommendation calling for more toilets to address the public restroom shortage. City officials claimed that the facilities could cost up to $250,000 each to buy and install, with an additional $65,000 per year to maintain, and the city reportedly did not have “the resources to execute a project of this magnitude.” Based on those cost estimates, the $2 million spent on the seagull-themed restroom could have paid for four 24-hour public restrooms and operated them for 16 years.
The Port District operates 17 public restrooms on San Diego’s waterfront, but around six are open 24-hours a day. One of these restrooms operated by the Port District at Ruocco Park is a 24-hour stand-alone public restroom building that was constructed in 2012 and cost $378,991. A draft resolution by the City of San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency in 2011 shows officials planning the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan waterfront project were aware of the sanitation issues. Hopefully the city can figure out a solution and provide more 24-hour public restrooms for the homeless population to use.