Closed as part of a broader campaign targeting unhoused folks outside, the bathrooms at Louden Nelson Center, San Lorenzo Park, and City Hall remained locked and/or closed to the general public. City Manager Martin Bernal ducked an invitation to explain at a gathering a week ago. He then met the next day with Conscience-and-Action [C&A] activists and rejected suggestions to reopen the bathrooms or immediately provide additional accessible portapotties.
BUREAUCRATIC BARRICADING AT ONE PROTEST LED TO ANOTHER
Confronted with an earlier protest outside her office three weeks ago, Carol Scurich, interim Director of Parks and Recreation, rejected demands to reopen the Louden Nelson bathrooms. She promised to provide full documentation justifying the closings (vandalism, drug use, “offensive behavior”). Weeks later, she, her underlings, and her superiors had still not provided that documentation.
In response, C & A activists showed up with food, placards, literature, and chants at City Hall at high noon on Thursday, June 28th.
LOW BLOWS BY THE LOUDEN NELSON LAVATORY LORDS
Louden Nelson supervisors have not only closed its bathrooms to anyone not using its “programs” but instituted a detailed set of rules for its premises, which it now terms “a cafe”. These include proper “personal hygiene, attire, and food consumption” and a ban against “leaving personal property unattended”. In addition, uniformed Ranger and 1st Alarm security thugs now patrol the area, and the entire adjacent park is fenced off.
All of this has been done with no public or community process.
On June 29th at an hour long meeting, C & A activists asked Bernal what damage or other problems prompted the closing of six restrooms. Bernal told us he would “look into” the matter, consider opening up more portapotties, a list of reasons why the bathrooms were closed, and several other vague prospects. But he did not mention that he was leaving the next day on a vacation. Meanwhile, City officials delayed any final action on a Public Records Act seeking the chronology of incidents and decisions around the bathroom closures. The request was made over a month ago and has now been delayed three times.
THE BATHROOM BACKGROUND
Visitor’s bathrooms at Cafe Gratitude and Pizza My Heart, previously funded by the city and open to the public, are now open only to customers with a discouraging sign on the door prominently displayed. Only Bookshop Santa Cruz, Main Public Library, Metro Transit Center, the Locust and Soquel St. Garages have bathroom access and only during the day for the general public. Two portapotties on Cedar St., and one at Laurel and Front allow for 24 hour use, but are not available to many disabled people. Those using them have complained they are dirty, ill-lit, and frequently locked.
In possible response to recent outrage over the closures, city workers have unlocked the two portapotties previously open only after 10 PM on Cedar St..
The late June “Less Crap, More Crappers” protest drew 15-20 members, sporting signs reading “Right to Pee”, “Open the Damn Bathrooms” “If Not Here, then Where?”, “Toilet Liberator”, “Pay Taxes–Hold Your Pee”, and the brief but succinct “Enough Crap!”
A number of speakers, many of them homeless, described the humiliating and unsanitary conditions created by the closed bathrooms and locked portapotties. Suggestions ranged from applying for the currently vacant permanent Director of Parks and Rec position, to the more radical idea of presenting staff with human waste cleaned up outside the locked facilities to document the extent of the problem.
Much of protest was captured on a video made by visiting Salinas homeless advocate Wes White at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK7GJ44upIs&feature=youtu.be
CITY ADMINISTRATOR BLOCKS BATHROOM USE FOR DISABLED WOMAN
Acting City Administrator/Clerk Bush herself provided sharp focus on the “no bathrooms for the homeless here” policy at City Hall. Several protesters noticed the City Hall Women’s bathroom was open instead of being locked as it had since the Freedom Sleeper protests began in mid-2015.
Pleased to see the City Hall authorities responding uncharacteristically to the obvious needs, I then asked Bush to open Men’s bathroom as well. She archly refused then quickly moved to close the women’s bathroom as well. Though the staff has its own bathrooms inside the building as well, Bush and her worker Anna Brooks added insult to injury. Minutes later they refused to allow a disabled woman access to either the privileged staff bathroom inside the Council offices or the previously public bathroom outside Council chambers. Instead Brooks handed Norse a “helpful” list of open-during-the-day bathrooms blocks away elsewhere in the City. The library’s bathroom across the street was reportedly closed.
POLICE BACK UP BATHROOM BLOCKADE
When a group of people demanded to know the reasons for this discriminatory behavior (against the homeless, the disabled, and the general public), Bush summoned the police. Four cops headed by Sgt. Mark Eveleth appeared in full uniform and weaponry. Eveleth threatened, coaxed, and herded the group outside with his four “back-up” officers standing behind him. When asked, Eveleth declined to offer any assistance in dealing with stressed bladders or irritated colons, instead stating falsely that the same Bush, who had ordered the Women’s bathroom locked minutes before, “had no key”..
NEXT DAY’S MEETING FUTILE
The subsequent meeting with Bathroom Boss Bernal resulted in lots of smooth ducking and weaving, but no commitment to do anything definite other than “look into” providing more of the disabled inaccessible portapotties. Those interested in following the smelly dialogue can review the audio soon on “Latest Shows” under huffsantacruz.org (for July 1 and July 5).
KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE
Proposals at a recent meeting of the C&A group included tabling outside the scene of the criminal bathroom closures–the Louden Nelson Center. There HUFF activists hope to poll community members on their reaction to the “no poo for the poor” policy now in force. Tablers would also monitor and document discriminatory access to the bathrooms and provide an opportunity for folks to voice their views in petition and on the radio.
Contact HUFF at 831-423-4833 if you’re interested or e-mail at rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com.
The views expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily represent those of others in Conscience and Action. However, the group is pretty much united in demanding that the closed bathrooms be reopened.
HUFF has for decades demanded more bathrooms be made available and began its own “Give a Shit” campaign a year ago protesting Bernal’s closure of the City Hall bathrooms in 2015 apparently designed to drive away the Freedom Sleepers and Survival Sleepers who gathered outside.
HUFF meets Wednesday July 11th at 11 AM at the Sub Rosa Cafe (703 Pacific) to discuss creative ways of raising a stink. Subsequent meetings: July 25, August 8. CONSCIENCE AND ACTION MEETS July 18 and August 1 at the same place
“Open the Bathrooms!” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2018/06/26/18816025.php
“City of Santa Cruz Confiscates Food Not Bombs Portable Toilet” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2018/06/18/18815755.php
“Conscience and Action Speak Out at Parks and Rec” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2018/06/14/18815686.php