San Diego still is having trouble with one of the oldest problems of life itself: the need to urinate and defecate every day.

Perhaps nowhere is the awkwardness of our acknowledgement of this most human of needs more apparent than at the County Administration Center on Pacific Highway.

There, the resplendent Waterfront Park has operated for three years after parking lots were exchanged for fountains, a large playground, native gardens and large grassy areas.

And now a port-a-potty.

Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The hepatitis A outbreak has led to a number of these popping up around the city, especially downtown. It’s like the whole city is a big, gross concert but nobody’s playing music.

But unlike other areas getting port-a-potties, the Waterfront Park has very nice public restrooms.

So why are we putting ugly port-a-potties there?

I asked Mike Workman, a spokesman for the county. He was curt.

“Park closes at 10 p.m. Can’t let people into park after close to use bathroom, and not to walk dogs. Solution, porta potty,” he wrote in an email.

The county acknowledged people need to use the restroom but couldn’t bring itself to open them up. So now the beautiful park has a semi-permanent port-a-potty installment along with the cool native plants.

San Diego has long faced criticism for its lack of public restrooms.

In 2015, the County Grand Jury declared that the city needed far more of them — not just for the homeless, but to accommodate the public in general. Downtown has tens of thousands more residents and workers, who, along with tourists, need to go to the bathroom. Boosters champion downtown as a walkable, urban space but not having adequate restrooms belies that claim.

City officials acknowledged the problem but it festered for years until the gravity of the hepatitis A outbreak became clear. The disease is spread by fecal matter. Now dozens of hand-washing stations and portable toilets are popping up.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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