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December 31, 2009

Santa Monica Confidential

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Santa Monica, California has a public restroom problem.

That's not the actual problem, but I'll get to that in a bit.

I need to admit that I don't know a lot about the town and only casually follow its fortunes. It was known for its beach, a carnival pier and in certain circles as being the site of RAND Corp. (For lots more info, click here for the Wikipedia entry.)

As best I recall, civic leaders back in the 70s went into a tizzy of fear that Santa Monica might become too much like their next-door monster, Los Angeles. As a result, by the 1980s, Santa Monica struck me as a pretty drab place with a minimum of bright, new retail locations.

That seems to have changed. The downtown area near the bluff above the shore is pleasant and bustling. One street has been turned into a pedestrian mall. It has the usual collection of medium-range stores, and seems to be doing fine -- many pedestrian malls are flops. There are street markets in the same area.

Santa Monica also seems to be an arty place. On the way into town on Santa Monica Boulevard I noticed two large art supply stores a block or two apart. The downtown Barnes & Noble bookstore has a very good arts section. A smaller art book shop is down the block, and there's the huge Hennessey & Ingalls bookstore that features painting, design, architecture, photography, landscape and other arts; books are new and used.

The Barnes & Noble has a sign on its front door stating that it, unlike most other B&Ns, has no public restroom; one is encouraged to look for one in a public parking garage or in the food court area of the pedestrian mall. There are public restrooms in the park along the bluff, but in town it seems one has to be a patron to get to use a store's or restaurant's facility.

The reason for this almost surely has to do with street people and the homeless who have an easier life in balmy southern California than elsewhere. I noticed quite a few shabby, older males hanging around the sidewalks silently begging and can sympathize with business trying to maintain a pleasant environment. But I did find the situation inconvenient.



posted by Donald at December 31, 2009


I'm sitting in LAX. Just drove PCH from SF. I noticed a lot of homeless people outside our hotel in Santa Barbara. Read that 67 & 29 homeless died in San Jose and Santa Barbara in '09. Malibu also had quite a few homeless folks...

Posted by: Scott on January 1, 2010 5:46 PM

Santa Monica can't be as bad as NYC, where "Restrooms for customers only" signs adorn the front doors of most businesses.

Posted by: Peter on January 1, 2010 6:39 PM

Eh, we have the same thing in Hawaii as well. In general, if you look like you might possibly be a patron or know someone who is a patron, they will let you use their facilities.

If not, the answer is to simply verbally take note of their name and ask for their supervisor. 9 times out of 10, that will get you in. Failing that, getting the corporate number will often do the trick, and even after that, if they don't let you into the can, calling the corporate number and complaining will usually get you a gift certificate in the mail for your troubles.

Yeah, I could write a book about public restrooms.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on January 1, 2010 10:55 PM

John Nash was arrested in a Santa Monica restroom while working for RAND in the 50s.

Posted by: Herb Dregs on January 1, 2010 11:50 PM

Public loos are getting rarer in Britain too, which is particularly vexing at a time when pubs are closing at a huge rate.

Posted by: dearieme on January 3, 2010 10:30 AM

I've lived in the L.A. area for a decade now. When I first moved out here I used to go to Santa Monica all the time and public restrooms were readily available at Barnes & Noble and Borders (no longer there).

It's only been the past 3 or 4 years that they have closed down their restrooms to the public. I think it's very inconvenient but I don't envy the problems they had before. Because of the large homeless population in Santa Monica there were many, many people hanging out in the restrooms. The smell was pretty bad and it could also get a bit creepy to see people lying in the stalls, etc.

The restroom in the food court requires a quarter to get in (unless someone opens the door for you from the inside). That seems to have minimized having too many street people hanging out in there.

You should've smelled the park. You could see how much of a problem all the vagrants can become.

Posted by: Daniel on January 4, 2010 3:27 PM

Yeah, I could write a book about public restrooms.

Posted by: tn requin on January 4, 2010 8:54 PM

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