Community members, board offer opinions on proposed park bathrooms

Carmel Knolls Park.
(Karen Billing)

Representatives from the city were expected at the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board’s May meeting to discuss the new comfort stations, public restroom facilities, at Carmel Grove and Carmel Knolls parks. Due to a miscommunication, city staff was not in attendance but the city plans to provide an update on the park improvements at the board’s June 22 meeting.

The comfort stations were approved by the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board back in 2015, two of $18 million worth of local park improvements using Developer Impact Fees (then known as Facilities Benefit Assessment funds) paid into by local developers.

Last year, the city scraped approved plans for a comfort station at Carmel Mission Park after several neighbors came forward in opposition. Residents cited a lack of need, questioned the city’s ability to maintain it and also shared concerns about safety. Neighbors said that the public bathroom could become a venue for teens to loiter, smoke or do drugs and that it could also invite homeless people and other criminal activity.

Planning board member Debbie Lokanc had requested the board place the Carmel Grove and Camel Knolls projects on the agenda due to similar concerns. On her own, she did a survey of homes surrounding the park and found 50 people were against the new bathrooms and 12 were in support: “There were quite a few people who didn’t want it,” Lokanc said.

One resident in attendance at the May 25 board meeting shared her opposition to the restroom due to concerns with safety, graffiti and cleanliness. Another resident, a member of the Friends of Carmel Knolls Park, said he is “emphatically” in support of the comfort stations. He walks the park every day and sees a “human waste issue.”

“With the amount of activity in the park, I can’t believe there isn’t a requirement for a restroom to support it,” he said.

Heavily used for youth sports programs, he said he inevitably often sees boys scurrying from behind the bushes because there is nowhere for them to go—girls often need to leave the park in order to use the bathroom.

Like Lokanc, board member Jeffrey Heden also did his own research—currently 12 Carmel Valley parks have bathrooms and according to his conversations with the Northwestern Police Department, they haven’t had any issues with homeless people.

“Every single mom I talked to watching their kids on the playground said emphatically ‘yes, please!” and thanked me for it like I had something to do with it,” Heden said.

Heden said the restrooms are funded and would be an improvement to the parks: “I think we deserve these things at a neighborhood park where kids are at….I’m amazed that people are against this,” he said.

Heden also said the board should respect the hard work done to identify the needs of residents and their families years ago and projects already approved in public meetings. Councilmember Joe LaCava’s Chief of Staff Victoria Joes said during last year’s discussion with Carmel Mission Park, as board makeup changes, they need to be careful about going back and undoing previous votes and projects.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board next meets Thursday, June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Carmel Valley Library.