Democratic City Councilmembers Sounding More Like Republicans – Now Want to Charge Homeless for Use of Public Restrooms

by on January 23, 2023 · 31 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego

Only public restroom in downtown San Diego north of Broadway.

What’s the big deal with having a totally-Democratic City Council if they all start sounding like Republicans? That’s what’s happening in San Diego. The City Council now wants to start charging homeless people — and others — for using public restrooms.

City elected leaders say they could solve the shortage of downtown restrooms by charging users “a nominal fee,” as much as, say, a quarter or 50 cents. Plus, they claim unhoused people would be actually better off because they would have access to more and clean public restrooms. That’s more of a Republican view, isn’t it? Let folks pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and plug in a quarter or two to go to the bathroom.

To charges that it is cruel and inhumane to charge homeless people for the right to use a restroom, city officials repeat the mantra, ‘homeless people would be better off, because there would be so many more clean and safe public restrooms.’ But if homeless people don’t have money to use the public facility, they’ll just go outdoors or some other place. To think otherwise is, frankly, doublethink.

Before going into these ridiculous claims, let’s pause a moment and reflect on the fact that unhoused people in downtown, in Ocean Beach and elsewhere have been asking and clamoring for more public restrooms for at least the last 15 years. During a series of town-hall meetings over the issue of homeless people in Ocean Beach back in 2009 and 2010, the number one complaint or ask was for more public restrooms.

Back in 2011, when the Rag covered the Occupy Movement in downtown San Diego, one of the main complaints that unhoused people had who had come in contact with activists was the lack of public restrooms. Remember the hepatitis outbreak? In September 2017 the Union-Tribune Watchdog reported that, “San Diego officials were warned about restroom shortage repeatedly before hepatitis outbreak.”

In November 2017, the UT reported that, “San Diego leaders rejected calls for higher volume of restrooms downtown, but built one for $2 million.”

The issue of the lack of public places to go has been a constant. And city leaders and officials have dragged their feet on the issue for longer than any of the current Democrats have been on Council. Denial and avoidance.

So, now, instead of building or installing more public restrooms, they want to charge the homeless, the tourists and everyone else. In order to do this, it turns out, they have to overturn a nearly half-century state law that bans pay toilets.

City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera has been the leading voice on pay to pee. He was quoted in the U-T:

“This is not meant to be a barrier to access, but to actually increase the number of restrooms that we have out there. We’ve heard from multiple people in the community that they would gladly pay a quarter or 50 cents for access to a clean restroom.”

In December, Elo-Rivera’s proposal was unanimously endorsed by the City Council — all Democrats except one. They also added overturning the state ban on pay toilets to the city’s Sacramento lobbying priorities for 2023.

As the U-T reported:

The state ban specifically prohibits cities from charging fees to help cover the costs of operating public restrooms, so the council voted to “support legislation that allows local jurisdictions to implement cost-recovery measures for public bathroom access.”

California was part of a national movement in the 1970s that prompted more than a dozen states to ban pay toilets. That push was led by a group called the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America, which said access to free restrooms should be a basic human right.

The group also complained that pay toilets were sexist because at the time many of them charged for use of stalls while making use of urinals free. …

Mayor Todd Gloria said in 2021 that San Diego was committed to having a clean and safe public restroom within a quarter mile — roughly a five-minute walk — of any location downtown.

But a study released last month by San Diego State University shows there aren’t nearly enough restrooms to fulfill that pledge. There are only two 24-hour public restrooms downtown, with most of the area’s 20 other public restrooms operating about 10 hours per day.

San Diego’s lack of downtown restrooms has been highlighted by four county grand jury reports. It has also been blamed for the hepatitis A outbreak in 2017, which killed 20 and sickened 582 more, and a 2021 outbreak of Shigella that infected more than 45 people.

Here’s some responses:

  • Bob McElroy, a homeless advocate who runs the nonprofit Alpha Project, agreed that the proposal simultaneously raised concerns and had some merit.“I can see the logic behind it, and maybe it’s a smart move,” he said. “Generating revenue for more restrooms makes sense, but that’s not going to fly with the  omeless population.”McElroy said many homeless people have no money on them at all. “If they have to go and they don’t have 25 cents, they’re just going to go where they normally do — not in a restroom,” he said.
  • Michael McConnell, another homeless advocate and a vocal critic of many city homelessness policies, was also conflicted. “I can see both sides,” he said. “If you charged, people wouldn’t camp out inside restrooms as often, and there would be many more clean and safe restrooms. But it would kind of suck if somebody’s got to go and they can’t because they can’t pay.”
  • Mitchelle Woodson, executive director of the homeless advocacy group Think Dignity, strongly objected to the idea of pay toilets. “This is ridiculous — I’m against any charge for a basic human need,” said Woodson, whose group helped coordinate the recent SDSU restroom study. “I’d be against it whether it’s 25 cents or $25.”

Woodson said the downtown restroom problem was caused by decades of city negligence and that the solution is not to start charging homeless people for restroom use. She said the city should pay for an adequate number of clean and safe restrooms downtown and stop complaining about the costs, contending the city will save money it’s now spending on “reactive” efforts to cope with homelessness and public health problems.

So, yeah, what’s the big deal with an all-Democratic council?


{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl M Zanolli January 23, 2023 at 1:21 pm

I went to the County Law Library last week and walked through the appalling situation of what the Civic Center Plaza has become. As I went back to my car I walked past the doorway in the photo. Lots of people milling around waiting to get in. A guard sitting behind a glass enclosed booth. No signs posted that I could see. I tried to imagine what was going on there but felt the urgency to move on. . .quickly. Now I know.


JON January 23, 2023 at 4:38 pm

I’m for free Toilets / showers but the important thing is that it gets build. We can discuss fee or free later on.


T January 24, 2023 at 8:49 am

#1. This is the stupidest idea ever and anyone who has ever found human crap in the yard can attest to the stupidity of this idea. A homeless person is not going to spend 50 cents on a toilet.

#2. Of all the XYZ is a human right rhetoric, having access to safe and toilets should be on the top of this list. It is one of those “human rights” that affects us all and not just poor people. It’s the most equal right we have as we would all suffer if more people started to defecate in public spaces so we all benefit from access to toilets.

#3. I didn’t see mention of where you heard about this. Was it in a committee or just something you overheard?


Frank Gormlie January 24, 2023 at 9:53 am

It’s been in the news of late. Monday in the U-T.


T January 24, 2023 at 10:07 am

Thanks. I’ll take a look.


T January 24, 2023 at 10:22 am
Frank Gormlie January 24, 2023 at 11:20 am

The article does have a pay-wall but I hope readers can access it.


kh January 24, 2023 at 3:44 pm

I thought this was an onion article at first.

How about we start with keeping the public restrooms we have now clean and safe? We have 3 in OB that are open 24/7 and they aren’t clean, and people often sleep in the stalls. People who poop in public now are not going to pay a fee to use a restroom. They might pay it to set up camp in there though.

This would really only benefit those who aren’t homeless and carry change, IF the city actually maintains them. Heck I’ll swipe a credit card for a clean bathroom. But let’s not pretend this helps anyone who’s homeless. What would it cost to provide the equipment plus security and cleanings hourly? It should be done, but get the money from somewhere other than door fees, like those bike lanes that cost $6M per mile.


Chris January 24, 2023 at 4:00 pm

“like those bike lanes that cost $6M per mile.”



kh January 24, 2023 at 4:55 pm
Chris January 25, 2023 at 3:19 pm

I’m sure you’ll disagree with me on this, but I DO think money should be spent on improving bike infrastructure.


Vern January 24, 2023 at 5:52 pm

Are there more unhoused folks in San Diego needing restroom access, showers and health care than cyclists needing painted bike lanes?


Paul Webb January 24, 2023 at 4:48 pm

In many European countries pay toilets are the norm, as was pointed out in the article. It’s a real pain to make sure you always have a one euro coin at all times, especially since ATMs don’t give out coins.


Roy Mitchell January 25, 2023 at 8:30 am

It isn’t a pain to make sure you have a euro coin on you at all times, the 1 and 2 euro coin are constantly on your person because its the cost of a bus, train, or cappucino. Free restrooms at the Louvre, the eiffel tower, the bavarian state brewery, the zurich opera house. Free restrooms at Notre Dame, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Parthenon. There are free restrooms at basically every state funded point of interest in Europe, of which there are many because they value culture more than capital. In addition to this there are many bathrooms on the street which you simply plop a single coin in to use. You can literally walk in any direction in any major city in Italy, France, or Germany and find a free bathroom.

It’s ridiculous to bring up europe as an example because they use their high taxes to educate their population and keep their citizens healthy and happy. There’s probably more mentally ill people screaming on public transit in SD than in the entire country of Germany.

There’s is simply no comparison. It’s comparing apples to a well run and smartly governed society. What kind of mental gymnastics must one perform to think that mentally ill people living on the streets are going to somehow fund a public service. Literally insane thinking.


Paul Webb January 25, 2023 at 10:00 am

Roy, I’m really not sure what the point of your reply is. Yes, there are free restrooms in some places in Europe (although I will point out that some of the examples you cite require a paid admission to the venue). And, yes, European countries spend more on education, social welfare, etc., of its citizens. All I was saying is that it is inconvenient to always make sure you have a one euro coin, as that is often the only way to pay for a public toilet. A five euro note won’t help you in time of need, nor will two fifty cent coins. One euro, one coin. I’ve gotten to the point where I make sure that I have some one euro coins when I return from Europe, just to make sure I have some in case my wife needs a restroom on our first day in the euro zone. I was only pointing out the inconvenience of the whole thing, particularly at a time when we are paying for many things with our phones or other cashless payment options.


Roy Mitchell January 25, 2023 at 10:18 am

My point is that paying 1 euro for a bathroom on the side of rue de washington or wherever is not the same as paying 50 cents for a bathroom in downtown SD. It’s disingenuous to compare the two, and it’s ridiculous to use the european model to justify pay to use toilets here in SD, specifically because

1. there are free toilets everywhere in europe. None of the places I listed require an admission fee to reach the toilets.
2. Every single european has a 1 and 2 euro coin in their pocket at all times because it has actual real value in their culture and society, whether for cafe, apertif, or public transit. America has none of this woven in to our society like europe does. People here dont carry around 2 coins because it doesn’t get you anything, unlike in europe.

Europe can shamelessly allow itself to have a few pay to use 1 euro toilets because there are not literally hundreds of people shitting in their streets


Paul Webb January 25, 2023 at 4:44 pm

Roy, now you’re really confusing me. Never did I say that paying one euro for a bathroom was the same as paying 50 cents for a bathroom in San Diego. My only comment was that it was a real pain to always have to have a one euro (not a two euro coin, not to half euros, etc.) in your pocket at all times, as many public restrooms have coin operated entrances, as you correctly point out. They accept only one euro coins. True, there are some with attendants where you can get change, but they are pretty quickly being replaced.

I’m wondering how long it’s been since you were in Europe. I was just at the Parthenon (12/22). The only toilets were located after the entrance, which required a ticket. Notre Dame is closed to the public due to the catastrophic fire of 2019. Yes, Paris does have its free pissoirs, but that doesn’t help my wife very much.

I visited several islands in the Med last year. Honestly could not recall any public restrooms, except in port facilities for arriving tourists. Most museums and other tourist facilities had free restrooms, but available only after purchasing a ticket to enter the museum. Oh, I do remember a free restroom at the palace of Knossos on Crete, but you had to enter the facility to know it was there (but before the ticket turnstiles).

In Pompeii, we had to buy something at a food/beverage counter to get access to a restroom.

Israel was interesting. Charge to use the facilities at a gas station (!), but free ones at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and at the Baha’i gardens in Haifa. Of course, entrance was free at both places anyway.

In Reykjavik in July, the only public restroom I could find was of the “portland loo” variety, i.e., coin operated.

Finally, I challenge you to find a coffee, an aperitif or a transit ride for one euro pretty much anywhere in Europe these days. Maybe Albania or North Macedonia, but Paris, Rome or London? Not a chance.


Roy Mitchell January 25, 2023 at 5:29 pm

I’m not disputing if you say that the Parthenon bathrooms were closed without admission, but the Louvre and eiffel tower were both open. This isn’t worth arguing about as we agree that free bathrooms are necessary.


FrankF January 25, 2023 at 7:38 am

That’s the stupidest idea ever!! If you charge the homeless to poo, they’ll forego paying and poo on the street and in the doorways of businesses. We need more free public toilets, not less!!

Did you notice the free toilet was build into the city hall complex? Why? So the council people don’t have to step in it when they go to work. The rest of downtown….no free toilets but lots of free poo.

What kind of freaky bubble the city council lives in? Have they wandered to the corner of 10th and C Street downtown where you can’t walk down the sidewalk for all the filth? Have they walked down Sports Area Blvd east of Rosecrans??


Chris January 25, 2023 at 8:17 am

I’m guessing they have. Not all decisions are based on whether or not they’re a good idea.


Roy Mitchell January 25, 2023 at 8:58 am

It’s the complete abdication of responsibility. Total indifference to the public good. They don’t want to exert the most miniscule of effort towards building something good for society, simply because it will cost (all of us) a bit of money. Their minds are so poisoned by desire to accumulate capital that they view the homeless, sick, mentally ill, unhoused population as an untapped revenue source instead of a source of shame for which we are all responsible.


retired botanist January 25, 2023 at 9:14 am

Just un-frickin-believable! Elo-Rivera says:

“We’ve heard from multiple people in the community that they would gladly pay a quarter or 50 cents for access to a clean restroom.”

And what multiple people are they? Um, people with money?!
To say this is massively tone-deaf (never mind ignorant and ill informed) is an understatement!!!


T January 25, 2023 at 10:20 am

I’m really confused by Elo-Rivera. He did run as a democrat did he not? Then why is he so bunchy about the city being able to profit off of basic health and welfare needs? This is why we pay taxes. The city shouldn’t be expecting to profit off of any public service that it requires for health, safety, or welfare. FFS, next he will thinking of way that the police and fire firefighters can profit and pay for their services.


Frank Gormlie January 25, 2023 at 11:33 am

Exactly. Let’s have a pay for service fee for police and fire fighters.


sealintheSelkirks January 25, 2023 at 12:15 pm

Yeah Frank, Whoo-hoo! All for that!! Let’s get rid of this Socialism crap and institute pay-as-you-go firefighters and cops and dog catchers and lifeguards and building inspectors and city councilmen and mayors (oh wait we already have that with the last two and that’s called ‘campaign contributions).

What a wonderful idea, privatize for profit EVERYTHING! Isn’t that where this neoliberal ‘trickle-down’ economy has been heading since Reagan landed in the White House?

When your house catches on fire that bundle of cash you’ll have ready when they show up…unless of course it’s already burnt up. Can’t pay? They’ll have a great monthly payment contract ready for you to sign!

And cops? Absolutely! This is certainly going to work so well and it will save the taxpayer $300 billion a year in this country. Just think; No more traffic tickets for those who can pay, either, just like the infamous Mexican cops that want you to ‘pay the fine to the judge’ by putting the cash under that rock over there and then drive away which, incidentally, I’ve had to do more than once on Baja surf trips! And that’ll be wonderful thing. George Floyd didn’t have to die, he could have just ‘paid’ his way out of that minor trouble he had…or maybe not because it’s doubtful you’d be able to pay your way out of being the wrong skin color. But hey, there’s always a few glitches, right?

The opportunities are boundless here! How about in those pay to poop bathroom instituting a per square cost of butt wipe, too? That’ll SAVE THE TREES!


No, retired botanist, it’s not tone deaf. It’s stupidity.

T: don’t be confused. You obviously haven’t lived in San Diego long enough to realize there have always been two faces of the Republican Party in this city. I grew up knowing this… And the county I live in now has solved that problem because there aren’t any ‘democrats’ even on the ballot anymore… That is NOT a snark, it was the last election!



Frank Gormlie January 25, 2023 at 12:17 pm

Ha ha ha ha ah a … sob, sob.


Chris January 25, 2023 at 3:23 pm

Interestingly enough, a lot of friends and acquaintances (those under 40) who consider themselves progressives are very much in favor of public pay toilets despite the fact homeless people will not have access. UT article from today:


retired botanist January 25, 2023 at 5:31 pm

well, shame on them. guess they’ve grown up in a 1% environment. just puts a bold font on the disparities of basic human rights in our urban environments.


Chris January 25, 2023 at 6:18 pm

I don’t know about growing up in a 1% environment, but the definitely don’t understand their own contradiction.


Vern January 25, 2023 at 6:07 pm

“… friends and acquaintances (those under 40) who consider themselves progressives are very much in favor of public pay toilets… ” most of whom likely have access to free toilets at their frequented bars and grub pubs, maybe?


Chris January 25, 2023 at 6:19 pm

Not maybe.


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