Mayor Todd Gloria and Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nathan Fletcher discuss homelessness at a Politifest panel, moderated by Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halverstadt on October 8, 2022.
Mayor Todd Gloria and Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nathan Fletcher discuss homelessness at a Politifest panel, moderated by Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halverstadt on October 8, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Mayor Todd Gloria has had it with folks making a mess in the city’s public restrooms.

Asked at Politifest what the city is doing to add more public restrooms downtown to address needs cited by homeless residents and business owners, Gloria said the city is “fighting like hell” for more bathrooms but has struggled to deal with users who make it difficult to even maintain existing ones.

Late last year, Gloria set a goal to have public restrooms within a five-minute walk of all areas downtown, a target the city initially envisioned meeting quickly.

Gloria’s team said Tuesday the city is still working to achieve that goal. As Voice of San Diego has previously reported and Gloria acknowledged Saturday, the city is continuing to grapple with how to ensure access to bathrooms it already has as it tries to add more restrooms.

Gloria said the city has pushed hard for restrooms outside UC San Diego Extension’s Park and Market project downtown and the now-shuttered Horton Plaza mall, set up new port-a-potties elsewhere and is including bathrooms in new park developments.

But Gloria said some messy bathroom users are complicating efforts to add more restrooms:

“I just need to ask folks to quit acting a fool in these bathrooms. I mean, it’s not just the homeless population. It’s everybody. You’ve seen the stories about the lack of cleanliness. Talk about worker issues. It’s very hard to get people to do that job as well. And so, you know, when these bathrooms are being destroyed – and I’m not saying this is the homeless thing – this is everybody’s getting in there and acting some foolish. Like, it’s kind of funny, but it’s not, right? I mean, it makes it hard for me to tell a community we need to put a public restroom there because they think of it as only a negative thing rather than a common human thing, which is that we all go to the bathroom, right? But the answer to the question is, we’re doing that work now. We could certainly be good partners in making sure you clean up after yourself after you use the damn thing. I can’t believe I have to say that, but some people came out of the home  (the) last two years, they came out crazy and they’re acting stupid in these things. And I don’t have enough park maintenance people to keep this thing clean, right? So just for God’s sake, if you see someone messing this up…this is getting crazy…. I think my staff’s gonna have a heart attack, but I just [..] it’s theirs, the bathroom’s available. You know, you’re talking about them in cases when they’re not there, but when they’re there, people don’t like them. And then it’s chasing our tail. And this is just as nuts. I’m just asking to be a decent human being for God’s sakes. And flush when you’re done if it’s not too much…”

Gloria concluded by jokingly wiping under his eye.

Fellow Politifest panelist Nathan Fletcher, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, was sympathetic. He said cities, counties and other agencies struggle with the “tremendous expense” tied to restroom and that, though he thinks there should be more, delivering them is real hard.

“To the mayor’s point, you have to have 24/7 security – 24/7 security. You also have to clean them every two to three hours,” Fletcher said. “And so at a time, again, when we have a critical shortage, it does become like, ‘OK, should we launch a new shelter facility that has bathrooms, should we have safe parking, safe camping or should we fund (a bathroom)?’”

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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  1. I traveled to France prior to pandemia. In a modest town of 100,000 people the City had installed a self-cleaning toilet that used high power water spray to scrub the entire facility in just a few minutes.

      1. Paris has several different types of public bathrooms, including self-cleaning kiosks that have been around for decades. The cleaning cycle between users means that the throughput is quite slow, and because water is scarce here, it would be important to know how much water is needed for the cleaning cycle.

  2. Why not have staffed toilets like in train stations in Europe. Make them gated and charge a nominal fee (50 cents or something like that). The fee pays for at least some of the cleaning/attendant fee. As someone who needs the restroom urgently and frequently, I’d rather have to run a bit further to a clean restroom than not be able to use one every 5 minutes of walking time at all because it’s so disgusting (current conditions).

    Unfortunately, I think they tried the self-cleaning ones in SF a couple of decades ago and the homeless started to “shower” and shelter (and OD) in them.

  3. If the city council and Mayor Gloria gave as much attention to the city’s public restroom crisis as they are giving the city’s so called “housing crisis”, the problems detailed in this article would be solved in a week or two. Not sure how we can have a housing crisis when thousands of new apartments and condos are now under construction and over ten thousand homes are being rented out as mini-hotels instead of housing local families.

  4. In Mexico, there’s always a person at the public bathroom charging for a sheet or two of toilet paper. Perhaps the real reason is to discourage bad behavior.

  5. The solution is fewer public bathrooms! There are already plenty of public bathrooms in Private businesses, Restaurants, Gov’t. Buildings, Schools, etc.
    Stop enabling vandalism (and wasting water) by eliminating all theses City funded Public bathrooms, and also go to the bathroom before you leave home.
    People only become responsible when they are forced into it.

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