Where there was once a portable toilet, there is now only a pile of ash and a scorched wooden fence—at least for the time being. The public bathroom on the corner of Front and Laurel streets burned down the morning of Thursday, Oct. 8.; later in the afternoon, the wooden frame was still crackling from the heat of the earlier inferno. A few googly eyes remained stuck to the bathroom logo on the outside.
An investigation found that someone had caused the fire, according to Santa Cruz Fire Department Captain Jason Hajduk, but there wasn’t enough evidence left after the flames to pinpoint whether or not it was an accident.
An SCPD officer first spotted the fire and reported it around 3:30 a.m. on Thursday as he was going off duty. Investigators from SCPD looked at surveillance footage to try to identify the last person to use the toilet, but they don’t have any suspects, says police spokesperson Joyce Blaschke.
The city’s Public Works Department has already decided to replace the restroom, which opened more than 18 months ago, for a $1,000 replacement fee, says Scott Collins, assistant to the city manager.
Earlier this summer, the city launched an initiative to keep its slightly fancier bathrooms on Soquel Avenue open 24 hours a day. Collins says staff is strongly considering extending that pilot program, although they’ve found some damage. “I’m pleasantly surprised at how it’s gone, but there’s been some minor issues,” Collins says.
Activist Brent Adams started the Downtown Bathroom Taskforce, which cleaned the portable bathroom four days a week before City Council voted to keep its Soquel Avenue bathrooms open all night. The portable bathroom had been much cleaner, Adams says, after the city brought the new Soquel bathrooms into the fold, and also strengthened its cleaning schedule.
“I’m really happy the city is talking about replacing it,” Adams says of the bathroom, “because anything in that area is really necessary, based on the profound amount of use that unit gets.”