Ohlone Park Neighbors Talk Restrooms

Friends of Ohlone Park coordinating team member Kristin Leimkuhler points out locations on Ohlone Park aerial photograph

Permanent restrooms for Ohlone Park was the topic of a community meeting Monday evening, May 22, in classrooms A and B upstairs in the North Berkeley Senior Center.  Despite the Warriors game on TV at the same time, about twenty people participated, including Berkeley city council members Linda Maio, whose district includes Ohlone Park, and Kate Harrison, who lives nearby.  Kristin Leimkuhler, a member of the coordinating team of Friends of Ohlone Park (FOOP) chaired and led the discussion.  

Most of the participants lived directly next to the park or just a few houses away. There was broad consensus that the porta-potties currently in the park were deeply unsatisfactory, to say the least.  Maio spoke for all present, saying nobody wants the porta-potties, “we use them only under duress.”  Neighbors told horror stories of people dying of drug overdoses in porta-potties, people having sex in porta-potties, and various acts of filth and vandalism.  A parent of young children said he absolutely does not let his kids go into porta-potties.   

There was consensus also that new, permanent bathrooms should stay open only during park hours, 6 AM to 10 PM.  No one present wanted them open 24 hours.  High on the list of neighbors’ concerns was the presence of homeless campers in certain tree-sheltered areas of the park, and the impact that some members of this population would have on new restrooms.  There was discussion of restroom designs that discouraged misuse and vandalism, including the open-roof and doorless model found in Codornices Park, and the new Portland Loo model, which was designed in part by law enforcement personnel.  

Ohlone Park serves a variety of publics, and new restrooms needed to be designed and sited with this in mind.  There is a tot playground, for example, directly next to a basketball court.  Currently, it’s not uncommon for both publics to relieve themselves in the bushes by the fence that separates the park from private property, instead of using the porta-potties.  People leaving the North Berkeley BART station and walking up to the campus area are among regular porta-potty users.  

Participants also broadly agreed that regardless of new restroom design, the key to usability was maintenance. Unless they were cleaned each and every day, they would become as repulsive as porta-potties.  There was discussion of maintenance costs.  

Much discussion turned on location.  The current location of porta-potties drew positive and negative comments.  The idea to have one bathroom with two sides, one for tots and the other for basketball players, drew considerable comment.  The consensus was that the park, because of its stretched-out nature, needed two restrooms in different spots.  Maio was of the opinion that the Parks Department probably would never agree to two restrooms.  

Chairperson Kristin summarized saying that everyone wanted permanent restrooms, but that issues such as design and location were very much open, and that further community input and discussion were called for.  An online poll on the local listservs is planned.  She encouraged interested parties to investigate other park bathrooms.  She and other speakers also expressed disappointment that Parks Director Scott Ferris, who had agreed to attend and was listed as a speaker on the agenda, did not show and did not send a representative.  

Attachment: Copy of a flyer I distributed at the meeting  [This contains an error. The Emeryville Portland Loo opened in March 2016, not May 2017.] 

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