A new ordinance that would authorize city staff to establish rules for the use of public restrooms was approved by the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday, March 8th.
Rules established by the city manager would be posted in public restrooms to “promote cleanliness, safety and availability,” the ordinance states.
Although those rules have not yet been written, City Council members and city staff indicated that prohibited uses of a public restroom would include sleeping, bathing, brushing teeth, shaving and washing clothes.
City attorney Marsha Moutrie said the city is taking action because transients have begun to monopolize public restrooms.
“City staff has received many complaints from residents and other members of the public about the city public restrooms,” Moutrie said. “A high percentage of those complaints involve the use of public restrooms for inappropriate purposes.
“Some of the complainants have indicated that they are reluctant to use public restrooms or allow their children to use them.”
Those who violate the ordinance would receive a ticket that comes with a $250 fine and an order to appear in court.
Those who refuse to cooperate when police officers cite them would be subject to a misdemeanor charge that comes with a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
The ordinance would take effect 30 days from last week’s meeting.
The ordinance is opposed by people who argue that the policy is unconstitutional because the policy inadvertently targets homeless people.
“You cannot have ordinances like this,” said Ron Taylor, an advocate for the homeless and a Santa Monica resident.
“People have the right to use public restrooms. We went through this before with signs that said Negroes couldn’t use public restrooms,” Taylor said.
“Would you also like homeless people to move to the back of the bus?” asked Christine Shamus, a Santa Monica resident.
Santa Monica Councilmember Ken Genser replied that the ordinance does not include language that discriminates against the homeless or any group of people.
Everyone has to abide by the same rules, Genser said.
“This clearly has to do with behavior, not with poverty or status,” said Santa Monica Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “Public restrooms are resources that we don’t have enough of.
“Limiting their use to what they were intended for is appropriate.”
He said the city provides changing stations with lockers and showers for the public to use instead of doing those activities in public restrooms.
“I don’t think this ordinance is adequately flushed out,” said Jerry Rubin, a Santa Monica resident.
“You either pay staff to maintain the public restrooms or you pay the police to deal with this when they could be working to stop violence and other crimes,” Rubin said.
Several years ago, the city prohibited people from using public restrooms intended for the opposite gender.
City staff would use the new ordinance as a guideline to write rules similar to existing rules posted in restrooms at Santa Monica public libraries.