City officials will soon provide a mobile restroom service for Venice’s homeless

By Gary Walker

Being able to access restroom facilities after dark has been a vexing problem facing Venice’s homeless and many of their housed neighbors, with residents and business owners increasingly voicing concerns about human waste accumulating on sidewalks and lawns.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to fund mobile restrooms and hand-washing stations at four locations throughout the city, including Venice, to improve hygiene resources for those living in vehicles or homeless encampments. A six-month pilot program in Venice will begin in early January and include one portable restroom trailer overseen by an attendant.

At press time, the council was expected to take separate action on Wednesday to keep public restrooms on Venice Beach open around the clock with constant monitoring by attendants.

City reports estimate the cost of bringing mobile restroom service to Venice at about $240,000 for the initial six months, or $480,000 if extended to a whole year. Similar mobile restroom programs in southeast downtown Los Angeles, the downtown South Park commercial district and the Sun Valley neighborhood in the eastern San Fernando Valley are expected to cost about the same.

Keeping Venice Beach bathrooms open 24/7 is expected to cost the city about $250,000 a year.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice, said the pilot program comes in response to increasing public desire for both keeping neighborhoods sanitary and improving conditions among the city’s growing homeless populations.

“This is a very important step in giving people dignity and maintaining public health. If we’re not giving people a house and bathroom, they’re going to go outside,” Bonin said.

Longtime Venice resident Daryl Barnett has been an outspoken critic of city proposals to allow homeless people to store their belongings at the former Westminster Senior Center, and she also opposes a large affordable housing complex planned for the parking lot at Venice Boulevard and Pacific Avenue.

She’s in favor of the mobile restrooms, however — at least up to a point.

“I would support putting mobile restrooms in areas where the homeless already congregate, but certainly not in areas that would attract them to where they aren’t now,” Barnett said. “We need to stop facilitating the homeless with these Band-Aid solutions, give permanent solutions all over Los Angeles, and stop concentrating on Venice as Mike Bonin’s Westside designated area for the unhoused.”

Rick Swinger lives near the perennial homeless encampments at Third and Rose avenues, and for the past year he’s repeatedly posted photographs of unsanitary conditions along Third on social media. In recent months, increased city-sponsored power-washing on Third coupled with enforcement of city rules limiting the volume of possessions a homeless person can leave unattended have significantly reduced the number of campers there. He’s optimistic that keeping beach bathrooms accessible at night will make a positive difference.

“Having just a few of these bathrooms at the beach, which taxpayers already paid for, staying open 24/7 would help tremendously,” Swinger said.

The city’s Recreation and Parks Commission voted last month in favor of keeping the Venice Beach bathrooms open at night. If the council approves the plan, the commission will ask the California Coastal Commission for a permit to keep them open.

In addition to growing public support, the city’s mobile restroom pilot project is also a response to serious public safety concerns — alleviating unsanitary conditions that can facilitate the spread of hepatitis A.

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a public health emergency after an outbreak of hepatitis A in San Diego spread to Los Angeles.

“Those most vulnerable to hepatitis A are illicit drug users and the homeless, who often do not have access to regular hygiene,” California Department of Health Deputy Director Dr. Gil Chavez said during a conference call last month.

To date, no contractions of hepatitis A have been reported in Venice.