Ricardo Albrecht, left, waits with others outside one of the public toilets… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)
A string of break-ins last week shut down all five automated sidewalk toilets on skid row, authorities said Friday.
The vandalism or thefts, which also struck outdoor toilets in East and South Los Angeles, came months after county health officials cited a public health danger because of the city's failure to provide adequate working bathrooms for the 1,000 people who sleep on the streets of skid row.
Suspects broke into the backs of the $250,000 toilet cabinets and took circuit boards that controlled their automated self-cleaning functions, said Shannon Eastenson, an analyst with the city's engineering department. The motive is a mystery, but the boards may have had components that could be sold for recycling. To her knowledge, no one has been arrested, Eastenson said.
County health inspectors were out several times last week to make sure skid row toilets were being fixed, said Angelo Bellomo, county director of environmental health. The five toilets were down for one to four days, he said.
"Obviously that's too long," Bellomo said.
As of Friday, four of the city's 15 automated toilets, including one on skid row, remained out of order, Eastenson said.
Skid row activist General Jeff said the situation was doubly unfortunate "at a time when multiple department of public health reports clearly confirm an overwhelmingly deficient amount of public toilets in skid row.
"We are now unfortunately left with the option of 'creating' our own solutions," Jeff wrote in an email. "And trust me when I say that some of them are truly unprintable."
During two inspections in May, county survey teams found human or animal waste on skid row sidewalks and recommended the city add more restrooms. After a similar negative report last year, the city earmarked $1.2 million for quarterly sanitizing and spot cleaning of skid row sidewalks and streets but did not add any facilities.
City officials have not yet responded to the county's latest citation, Bellomo said.
CBS/Decaux Street Furniture, which runs the toilets, did not respond to email and phone messages.