The City of Manteca has reopened the restrooms at Library Park that have been closed for daily use for more than three years.
Manteca Police Chief Julie Estarziau said police have partnered with the city’s Parks & Recreation Department to make it work.
The restrooms were originally closed in spring of 2014 by then City Manager Karen McLaughlin in response to daily reports from city crews that opened the facilities that there were feces on the floor, used condoms, drug needles, and trash littering the floor.
McLaughlin ordered the restrooms closed out of concern for city employee and public safety due to the high risk of someone being stuck by discarded needles or stepping in human excrement. The restrooms since then only opened for special events such as this weekend’s Pumpkin Fair and the weekly Market & Music events in the summer. Anyone — including the homeless — using Library Park was allowed to use restrooms inside the nearby Manteca Library. But when issues arose with the library restrooms, those using it had to request a key first.
The issue in 2014 didn’t center only on criminal behavior by some homeless but non-homeless drug users as well as prostitution.
The police chief said so far there have been no reports of feces on the floor or other issues.
Estarziau said community resource officer Mike Kelly has been working with the homeless impressing upon them the need to not misuse the restrooms. He has been opening the restrooms when he starts his shifts around 7 to 7:30 a.m. four days a week while the Parks & Recreation Department makes sure they are locked nightly around 7 o’clock. The second community resource officer coming on board would allow that to be a seven-day a week routine
The goal is to reduce — and hopefully eliminate — the homeless having to go to the bathroom around downtown buildings. Merchants have complained for the past two plus years that cleaning up human feces and washing down urine had become virtually a daily occurrence.
Homeless will access other public restrooms when they can including those at Lincoln Park on Powers Avenue as well as Northgate Park on Northgate Drive and Morezone Park on Center Street.
“No one who is homeless or anyone else wants to go to the bathroom in the open,” Estarziau noted.
Lately, citizens have started voicing concern that the homeless going to the bathroom in the open and not being able to wash their hands afterwards could create a hepatitis A problem in Manteca that has plagued several other California cities.
Hepatitis A outbreaks mainly in San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles counties have killed 17 people, most of whom are homeless. At least 568 Californians have been infected by the contagious-liver damaging illness. San Diego has taken to disinfecting and washing down streets were the homeless live.
Estarziau is hopeful that the decision to have test surveillance cameras installed at Library Park and nearby Wilson Park by sometime in November will allow the city to address two of the key problems that forced the restroom closure in the first place — prostitution and drug use.
While the department doesn’t have the manpower to monitor surveillance monitors 24/7, they will be able to use it to detect if there are repeat users of the restrooms who enter and stay inside a long time before exiting. While the cameras are outside, it would allow officers to see if there is a pattern or familiar faces of suspected drug dealers or suspected prostitutes keep popping up.
That would allow targeted enforcement and prosecution.
The police chief also said if the department gets a call of such activity in Library Park, dispatchers can monitor screens as officers respond to provide information on the person’s activities or if they have departed the park in a specific direction.
The municipal budget adopted July 1 sets aside $50,000 for Library Park restroom upgrades in the 2018-2019 fiscal year of the five-year capital improvement program.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org