Council votes to continue porta potty program

In an effort to further address a countywide Hepatitis A outbreak, the Encinitas City Council voted Nov. 15 to continue a portable toilet program around the city through the current fiscal year.

San Diego County declared a public health emergency in regard to Hepatitis A in September.

The virus, which causes a highly contagious liver infection, is spread when people come in contact with fecal material. Some people who contract the disease show no symptoms, while others experience fever, fatigue, vomiting, a yellowing of the eyes, dark urine and diarrhea, county health officials report.

Because many of the people who have contracted the disease are homeless, there's been a regional movement to make public bathroom facilities available 24 hours a day.

Homelessness in Encinitas was up 25 percent in 2017, with the San Diego County-based Regional Task Force on the Homeless finding 117 people living on the streets or in shelters in the city in January, compared to 93 last year.

The council on Nov. 15 unanimously agreed to continue four of the sites and add a porta potty near the downtown 7-11 store, with the owner's permission. They also directed staff to look at possible options for porta potties at Beacon's Beach.

The toilets would cost about $1,050 per month, according to the portable restroom contractor, Diamond Environmental Services.

Prior to the city's porta potty program, which includes six porta potties in five areas and began early last month, Encinitas had no 24-hour public bathrooms.

"The city had experimented with leaving the restrooms open during the night hours in the past, but the restrooms had been subject to vandalism, and also to blockading by the homeless to allow sleeping at the expense of preventing others from using the facility," according to a city staff report.

The toilets are located at Swami's Beach; Moonlight Beach; Encinitas Community and Senior Center; City Hall lower parking lot; and Leucadia Roadside Park. The county is also providing hand-washing stations in areas frequented by the homeless.

Resident Eric Gilmore said the Roadside Park location should be moved to control a growing homeless population in the area, which he believes poses a safety issue.

"There are more homeless people camping out in the area," he said. "This makes it uncomfortable for community members to use the park."

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz suggested that toilet could possibly be moved to the west side of 7-11, near the east side of Vulcan. Because 7-11 is open 24 hours, the porta potty could be more closely watched for loitering, he said.

Kranz said city staff is currently working to talk to 7-11's owner to discuss the potential move.

"We have a challenge we're trying to deal with, and it wouldn't take much to relocate it there," he said.

He said the city should also look into a 24-hour permanent bathroom structure.

San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Barbara Henry contributed to this report.

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