After a $700 bill for the damage to replace the city-supplied port-a-potty at William Meyer Park, the Oakdale City Council on Tuesday night, Sept. 8, voted to remove the toilet that was provided as a courtesy to the homeless that frequent the area.
The agenda item was requested for discussion on behalf of Councilman J.R. McCarty in response to learning that the city is responsible for covering the cost of an intentionally burned $696 portable toilet that was rented and city staff had planned to place a new rented toilet at the park.
The city will attempt to recoup costs from the individual who damaged the facility, but because of his transient status, administrators are not optimistic that it will be successful.
Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said that the cost of maintaining the portable toilets was $145 a month to the city and felt it was beneficial having it located at Meyer Park, rather than Wood Park and visible in the center of town.
“I would be the first to tell you that I was pretty ticked off … it’s extremely frustrating,” Whitemyer said upon hearing of the damage. “My initial response was ‘forget it,’ but then we started to think of the different outcomes.”
Whitemyer explained that without the bathrooms in the past there was human waste and public urination occurring in the parks and downtown by transients and said it was a matter of “health and safety.”
“Park people are homeless,” McCarty countered. “In my opinion, putting these toilets in the park encourages the people to stay in parks longer; that leads to destructive activities.”
McCarty continued, stating the individuals were draining city resources including public works and police and that the increased problems were not good for the businesses and citizens of Oakdale.
“I believe at this time we need to take our parks back for the community,” McCarty said. “Stop catering to the ones causing trouble.”
Councilman Tom Dunlop, while agreeing that the toilets were unsightly and encouraging problems, didn’t know what alternative the city had.
“We’re not going to get these people to leave,” Dunlop said, citing Prop. 47 for limiting what police could do. “I don’t like having toilets there but I don’t like having our city used as a toilet.”
Pamela Kelly of the Oakdale Rescue Mission and advocate for the homeless told the council that everyone needs to use the bathroom and without the portable toilets in parks, that would drive the transients to local businesses. She also encouraged councilmembers to explore the mission’s website on obtaining a shelter.
“The issue really is do you want them in the bathrooms of Starbucks, Jack-in-the-Box, or the public library or do you want them using a port-a-potty,” Kelly said. “If we had a place with a bathroom, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Two citizens that spoke were against any port-a-potties in the parks due to the element it was attracting and the subsequent destruction of the parks.
After some additional discussion, Dunlop moved to have the portable toilet replaced. Mayor Pat Paul supported Dunlop, but Councilmembers Richard Murdoch and Cherilyn Bairos supported McCarty with ‘no’ votes on the replacement.
After the vote Police Chief Lester Jenkins spoke, informing the council that having the portable toilet at Meyer Park was terrible due to being next to the library and access to children. He also asked the council to ponder the amount of money lost due to travelers refusing to stop in the city because of the homeless presence or businesses not moving to Oakdale.
Jenkins added that it was best for the city to establish “not-a-luxurious area” with video surveillance due to the amount of fighting and vandalism caused by the 50 to 60 transients he estimated in the city.
“These are mostly drug addicts and alcoholics (causing the problems) who are impulsive and logic doesn’t play a part in their decisions,” Jenkins said. “We’re not going to get them to change their lives at this point.”