East Village public restrooms that had been inaccessible for months amid a growing hepatitis A outbreak are now unlocked.

Earlier this month, Voice of San Diego inquired why two public restrooms developer Pinnacle International pledged to maintain as part of a public-private partnership were locked, even as a health crisis raged. Homeless people who’d settled in Fault Line Park said they’d requested keys to the restrooms only to be told no – or didn’t know they could use the restrooms in the first place.

A co-owner of Stella Public House, which manages the restrooms, had earlier said the restaurant, the city and the developer agreed to begin locking the restroom doors and requiring visitors to walk into the restaurant to get a key amid safety concerns.

That’s not happening anymore. The bathrooms are unlocked – for now.

A restaurant employee told city parks official Kathy Ruiz that the public restrooms were locked when she visited the restaurant last week.

Ruiz, a deputy director in the Park and Recreation Department, later wrote in an Aug. 14 email to city officials, the restaurant and Pinnacle that the locked bathrooms violated the developer’s contract with Civic San Diego, the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, requiring that it maintain public restrooms.

Stella Public House co-owner John Long said in a response to the city that the restrooms would remain open and that a key would be provided to anyone who requested it. The bathrooms have since been unlocked.

The city has posted signage explaining that park visitors can request a key to use the bathrooms when they’re locked.

A city spokeswoman said the restaurant will soon get additional signs to post near the bathrooms too.

“The restrooms should be open or made available to those who want to use them, as you have noted,” city spokeswoman Katie Keach wrote in an email to VOSD. “There has been no change in policy, and the city’s pleased that our communication with Pinnacle and Stella has resulted in a clearer understanding of their responsibilities.”

If there is a safety concern and the bathrooms must be locked, Keach said, Pinnacle or the restaurant must notify the city.

Additional emails released by the city reveal that city employees have repeatedly communicated with the restaurant and Pinnacle about restroom closures. The emails also show that the restaurant even informally requested a change to the agreement mandating they remain open.

At one point in February, Long told city officials that homelessness and illegal activity surrounding Stella Public House was significantly hurting business and said he had “once again closed the public restrooms at Fault Line Park as they are a catalyst to the increasing problem.”

Long’s email followed a notice from the city to Pinnacle demanding that maintenance issues at Fault Line, including the restroom closures, be resolved within 60 days. That notice said the restroom should remain open seven days a week between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Pinnacle later acknowledged the restrooms had been “closed for a time due to dramatic safety concerns” but had been reopened.

In the weeks that followed, a hepatitis A outbreak that’s disproportionately hit San Diego’s homeless population ratcheted up.

Homeless San Diegans who’ve settled in the park told VOSD at least a handful of people who’d stayed there came down with the virus. Experts have said the population’s lack of easy access to restrooms may be contributing to the spread of the infection and the disproportionate impact on San Diego’s homeless population.

Yet the restroom doors largely remained locked for months and at least a few homeless people who’ve settled at Fault Line Park weren’t aware they were open again when I visited on Thursday.

One woman used the restroom while I was there. A group sitting on the other side of the park said no one had notified them that the bathrooms were unlocked. They cheered the news.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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