For anyone who has thought twice about using a restroom at one of Long Beach’s parks, the city hopes to overcome those reservations with some new measures to make the facilities cleaner and safer.

In the next few weeks, the parks department will launch a park ambassador program that will send workers to clean and maintain bathrooms several times a day and lock them at night. The city is also seeking bids for magnetic door locks for select locations, which should be in place by this fall. And finally, as restroom buildings are added or renovated, the city will use materials that are better able to withstand or repel vandalism, Parks, Recreation and Marine Director Brent Dennis said.

Of the city’s 166 parks of all sizes and amenities, 33 have freestanding public restrooms, said Hurley Owens, bureau manager for park maintenance operations.

Some park restrooms have been used for illicit activities, repeatedly vandalized with graffiti, had plumbing clogged by unflushable materials or had fixtures destroyed by baseball bats.

A restroom has graffiti on the back wall, trash strewn about and a large pile of clothing in the corner.
City parks officials hope a new team of ambassadors will prevent situations like this messy restroom at Bixby Park. Photo courtesy of Ketty Citterio

At some parks, the problems have been significant enough for the city to temporarily close and fence off the bathrooms for weeks or months.

“I don’t even know where to start,” Ketty Citterio with the Friends of Bixby Park said when asked about the situation at her neighborhood recreation spot.

“There’s a lot of sleeping in the bathrooms, doing drugs in the bathrooms, and there’s no way to control that unless you put a guard in front of the bathroom.”

Citterio said her group offered to install cameras, put trash bins in the bathrooms, or play recorded classical music to prevent people taking naps, anything to improve conditions, but the city didn’t take them up on it.

They also asked for restroom attendants who could check the facilities often and shut them down if they were unsanitary, and the city has “been talking about that for months,” Citterio said.

As of late March, a supervisor had been hired, and the city was recruiting for 10 park ambassador positions; vehicles for the ambassadors are expected to arrive this month, and the program is expected to roll out by early May. Dennis said ambassadors will get safety training from the Police Department and will be able to call on officers if they need help.

Parks officials said a pilot program a few years ago to lock up restrooms at night didn’t have adequate staffing and was discontinued.

A toilet with the lid up and half of the rim broken off.
The city recently had to replace fixtures like this toilet at Recreation Park after vandals destroyed them. Photo courtesy of City of Long Beach

Parks workers currently clean and open up restrooms in the mornings and check them again later in the day, but Owens said the added staffing “will give us the leeway to actually get around to these restrooms six to eight times a day” and ensure they’re being used for their intended purpose.

“The more times we’re frequenting these restrooms, the cleaner they’ll be, and all that will work out for a more pleasant experience in our park system,” he said.

Citterio would like to know more about how the park ambassadors will be trained and what powers they’ll have; she said she hopes rather than expects the new program to improve restroom conditions.

But Owens said when his department has the proper resources and is able to get them out in the parks, “I’m not hopeful it will make a difference – I’m confident it will make a difference.”