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Council To Vote On Downtown Restrooms

San Diego City Council votes today on whether to keep its promise to provide four public bathrooms to service a thousand homeless people living on downtown streets.

The council voted unanimously in June 2010 to allocate $700,000 to fund what is called The Portland Loo Project. The proposed bathrooms are secure and graffiti proof. But the plan has languished in the Centre City Development Corporation, the city's downtown redevelopment agency which is being phased out.

The restroom project was spearheaded by the Girls Think Tank, a group of women advocates for the homeless.

They say they want to help the homeless, but found that small efforts, like dropping off backpacks or water, only addressed the problems for a short time. Safe, public restrooms would make a lasting difference, they said.

"We have only two public restrooms in all of downtown that are open 24/7," said attorney Noor Kazmi, president of the Girls’ Think Tank. "One of them has an attendant and if the attendant isn’t there, then you can’t get in. The other one can be locked at times. The rest of them, the public restrooms, close after dark."

The need was confirmed, she said, by David Ross, a longtime homeless advocate known as "the water man.”

Ross , a retiree, spends part of his Social Security dollars to buy water and rent portable johns for people who live on the street.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald has championed the cause.

Formerly News 10’s “Trouble Shooter” reporter, Emerald spent time on the street 26 years ago to see what conditions were like for the homeless. The experience galvanized her desire to do something to make life better for those down on their luck. She believes taking care of the basic needs of homeless people helps everyone.

"This is a big city, we’re not in a developing country," Emerald said. "Above and beyond the human dignity issue is the public safety issue. Human waste carries disease. When it’s hosed down, which the city currently does, it goes into our storm drain system and washes up on our beaches and bays. It contributes to a terrible pollution problem, we have to find a solution.”

The restroom project is on today's council agenda. For it to proceed, the council must approve it and then it must be green-lighted by state officials. A final decision is expected within two weeks.

“It’s unconscionable to me that a city like San Diego would have this problem and there would be delay after delay on solving this problem,” Emerald said.

Councilman Kevin Falconer, whose district includes downtown, said he, too, is in favor of finding a solution.

The vote takes place today at 2 p.m.

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