Discussion of the Demolition of Central Park Bathrooms Postponed Until Next Week – An item on the agenda that in part looked to demolish what some consider to be an historic building, the Central Park restroom, triggered numerous comments by some Davis residents complaining that the restrooms draw “unsavory” elements.
On February 16, 2010, the city council directed staff to consolidate several capital improvement projects that were being planned for Central Park, based on the project goals and objectives presented to the council, including demolition of the old restroom.
On November 1, 2011, the city council voted 3-2 to direct staff to put the plans for Phase I of the Central Park Master Plan out to bid, including construction of the new restroom and history plaza, which included a modification to “Direct staff to proceed with demolition of the existing restroom in Central Park and relocate the existing storage shed to the Hattie Weber Museum incorporating the shed appearance with the Hattie Weber Museum to be used as storage and direct that $1000 of the CIP budget be used to add shelving or other improvements to maximize the storage capacity of the shed.”
The question of the demolition of the restroom remains one of controversy, with Rand Herbert of the HRMC (Historical Resources Management Commission) speaking out in favor of keeping the restroom and re-purposing it as a historical building to serve the storage needs of the Hattie Weber Museum.
A number of residents came forward to speak of the unsavory element that the park and the restrooms, apparently in their eyes, attracts.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson was offended by the use of the term “unsavory” to describe the homeless population.
During her brief comment on the item that will come back next week because Brett Lee had to leave the meeting early to attend to a work-related issue, she said, “Some of the adjectives that have been used tonight are very un-Davisite like – unsavory, undesirable – a lot of these people have mental illness and chemical dependency. If you spend time there and you talk to police officers, some of these people are born and raised residents and that’s where they’re at.”
“They’re still people,” she said. She did acknowledge, “It can be scary. I appreciate the people who said they’ve never had a bad encounter. I’ve walked to meetings at night and it can be very scary at times.”
“I would just ask that if we’re going to go through this iteration next week that people just remember that these are also people – those words, I just think we’re better than that,” she added.
Carrie Weinrich, who owns a business on D St. by the corner of the park, told the council during public comment, “I have several people who work in my business and their clients that come in to see them, that are concerned about the unsavory types that have been roaming around Davis in the last few years, that have been increasing in the last few years.”
She added, “The way the building is situated is just another area for people to loiter, hang around, and the park already has issues with people hanging around and it would be better if they didn’t have a place to hang around.”
Kari Fry, a business owner and neighborhood resident said, “We are bringing people (from out of town) to this park, it’s a destination, an engine for our downtown economy.” She said that she has lived a block from the park, and “I have experienced the unsavory elements – they’re substantial and they’ve affected my family and my children. So that’s serious.”
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kemble Pope started by quoting FDR and then argued, “We want historical preservation if it is the best and highest uses of community resources and in this case I strongly believe it does not.” He added, “I want more children to be able to play there.”
“The police are reporting statistics differently than they were in 2008 and they have a completely different approach to our homeless problem than they did in the past,” he said. “They are not just citing and ticketing them, they are actually working with them to not bring them into the system.”
Elaine Roberts Musser, argued that the big issue was “structural.” “Are we looking at a money pit,” she asked, noting the problems with saving the Tank House. “If you want to save this building, I think the burden should be on the proponents to pay for any structural damages.”
Randi McNair, who has run the farmer’s market for much of its existence, expressed the concerns that families have about the safety around the bathrooms and noted that a storage unit would be an even less attended facility – “no one is there very much,” she said.
She added that the museum is not open 24 hours a day and wonders what will be different turning the unit into a storage facility rather than a restroom. “That is my big concern because my job is safety of the people that come to the market,” she added, encouraging the project to move forward without the old bathrooms.
Rich Rifkin, a member of the commission, noted that if we have to knock down the restrooms because people will loiter behind it, we also, using the same logic, have to knock down the Hattie Weber Museum, since people could loiter behind that building as well.
As another resident noted, the building is not causing the problems in the park, and she noted that in the 1970s we tore down blocks of intercity buildings thinking that would solve the social problems, and it did not.
Mary Lee Thompson, a volunteer at the Hattie Weber noted that it’s a misdemeanor to hang out in the park after 10 and that lights have been installed. “It’s not comfortable to sleep there anymore,” she added.
—David M. Greenwald reporting