Tarsha Godfrey was running errands on Sunday in Manteca and had to use the bathroom.
So she did what most of us would do — stopped at the nearest gas station.
The first one at Airport Way and Yosemite Avenue said it was out of service. She was told the same thing at the next two gas stations. On the fourth try the door had an out of service sign but the clerk said it was working and she was welcome to use it.
Two guesses. The homeless and pay day chasing lawyers using the state’s handicapped access laws to legally shake down owners.
Godfrey’s sent an email outlining her frustrations. On Tuesday, we spot checked six stations along Yosemite Avenue. The ones on East Yosemite Avenue were accessible but the ones on West Yosemite Avenue we stopped at had “no service” signs just like Godfrey said.
We asked several service station managers what was going on. In short, a number of homeless individuals over the years have consistently “trashed” bathrooms. We were told they will take “baths” in sinks and leave general messes. That said, they added non-homeless people have done their share of creating issues in restrooms.
As for the ADA compliance, ever since the Fair Oaks lawyer made his way through Manteca five years ago and slapped more than three dozen lawsuits against businesses for not following state rules to a “T”, the “no public restrooms” and “out of service signs” have gone up. In some instances the ADA violations involved a support rail being a quarter of an inch too low. Typically those issues are at older buildings.
The only state law governing restrooms in service stations that we could find was in the California Business and Professionals Code. The code states if a station is within 660 feet of an interstate highway or primary they must provide restrooms for a customer (which means paying customers.)
Most service stations along highways don’t prevent non-customers from using restrooms although some — included several in Manteca — require you to get a key from the cashier.
Over the years, service stations along West Yosemite Avenue have had issues with some homeless that have left restrooms worse for the wear.
Godfrey, by the way, is a Manteca Unified school district teacher who drives a 2018 vehicle and notes that “I’m pretty sure I don’t look too destitute on my worst day.” She is also an African American but she didn’t imply that she felt that was a factor.
Here’s Godfrey’s email:
“Yesterday I was out doing errands in Manteca and needed to
use the restroom. I started at the gas station on the corner of Airport and
Yosemite. ‘May I please use the restroom?’
“’No, it is out of service’ was the response that I got from the clerk who spoke Little English. Irritated, I proceeded East to the next station. There were no marked restrooms, I asked if I could use the restroom. ‘No, it is out of service’ the clerk answered. I replied, ‘I can buy your gas, but can’t use your facilities?’ Hum.... I have been denied service in other Manteca businesses along Yosemite, but never twice in one day.
“Off to the third location. I’m livid, with an unspeakable need to use the facilities. Response....same. It is out of service. Again I say, ‘I can buy your gas, but I can’t use your bathroom?’ The clerk said that was how he was told to reply by his boss.
“Fourth station — out of order sign on door. I ask if I could use the restroom. He said sure, right through that door. I asked if he meant the same door with the sign. He said, ‘yes...we use the sign to detour certain people that they don’t want in the bathroom.’
“I have such mixed feelings about the issue. I can see their struggle, however how is it ethical to systematically degrade paying customers this way. Although, I am very firm in saying that NONE of these stations will ever get my business, and I will share the experience with my friends; is this discrimination a viable option to solve the problem of homelessness in downtown Manteca?”
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