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[whitespace] Suzette Crowe
Junk Pile: Suzette Crowe shows off the drug accessories found in the bathroom at Borders.

Nüz

Downtown Pooper Scoop

Fodor 2002 describes Santa Cruz as "a haven for those opting out of the rat race," "a bastion of 1960s-style counterculture," "less manicured than its upmarket neighbors to the south" and "at the forefront of such very California trends as health food, recycling and environmentalism."

What it doesn't mention is our leadership in another California trend--an almost total lack of clean and graffiti-free restrooms where frappucino-drinking tourists can safely go pee before returning to Germany.

Managers of several downtown stores say vandalism and drug use have gotten so bad that many businesses have closed their restrooms even to paying customers from such far afield places as London, Rome and Aptos. The potty crisis has put them in an impossible situation, since customers often demand they have facilities at the ready, while continuing abuse of those same facilities can be shockingly costly, not to mention gross.

Before Fodor 2003 gets wind that our town is seriously toilet-challenged, El Palomar general manager Sarah Johnson is trying to reverse the trend by installing coin locks to control what she calls "outrageously expensive damage."

"People were using our restroom like a public bathroom, and we were painting the men's bathroom once a week just to deal with the graffiti. Since installing the locks, we've proved our customers weren't doing most of the damage," says Johnson, who'd like to see the city put up signage showing where the real public bathrooms are located.

She also urges all businesses to reopen restrooms, even on a limited basis, so as not to burden a few premises with everybody's poop, so to speak.

But Borders Books manager Suzette Crowe has solid proof that coin locks don't always work-- The Turd Journal.

"Yes, I know it sounds crude," says Crowe flipping through said journal, a collection of photos of dirty and graffiti-covered bathrooms that were snapped after Borders installed a customer-only token system to "All the token system did was monitor foot traffic, which ranged from 1,000 to 1,500 a day, and the restrooms still got trashed," says Crowe,

"We tried so many methods, but all to no avail. When the bathrooms were open, you couldn't even see the walls," she says. "Every inch was covered, even the mirrors. I've never seen anything like it and I grew up in New York. We found people dyeing their hair in there, feces smeared on walls, and people let off stink bombs, not that they needed to."

Candi Jackson of Jackson's Shoes says the fact that businesses are having to close bathrooms to their own customers speaks for itself.

"Downtown runs through phases. Every phase has gotten progressively worse. This one is particularly challenging," says Jackson, who has been in business for 38 years.

For food establishments built after 2004, the writing is on the bathroom wall-and it's not graffiti. Assemblymember Fred Keeley has authored legislation that would require restaurants to provide "clean toilet facilities, in good repair" to their customers.

"Giving customers access to restrooms is common courtesy and promotes public health by providing access to handwashing facilities," Keeley said in a press release about the bill, which has state Assembly approval and is headed for the Senate this week.

Meanwhile, Rosie McCann bartender Jennifer Clerk wishes the city would install self-cleaning bathrooms, like San Francisco.

"Pacific Avenue is beginning to look like Haight Street, and nobody wants to clean disgusting bathrooms, so why don't we get some of those self-cleaning restrooms?" Clerk asks.

Nuz got the, er, scoop on self-cleaning toilets from Suzanne Davis, vice president of New York­based JC Decaux, the company that manufactures said restrooms.

"San Francisco is provided with 34 of our toilets free in exchange for the right to advertise on 112 kiosks," said Davis. "Our toilets cost a quarter of a million a piece, so they only work in a city that has a lot of street furniture [bus shelters and ad kiosks] and a lot of high profile venues with substantial advertising rates."

Bummer. But, wait, hold your bladder there for a second, 'cause all may not be lost.

Davis told Nuz that while L.A. has struck a huge deal (150 toilets for 2,500 bus shelter ad venues), San Jose has managed to rent a mere seven toilets, and Palo Alto two, by calling themselves satellites of San Francisco. Since Davis clearly hasn't got a clue where Santa Cruz is, could someone please call and make like we're just another satellite?

Death of an Arts Center?

Jay Caron, owner of the Bonsai Courtyard in the Santa Cruz Arts Center, is moving his business to Ensenada, Mexico, where it will be called Spirit. Before he goes, Caron shared his view that slowly, almost imperceptibly, the artistic one-of-a-kind stores are leaving downtown.

"When people hear we're closing, they say, 'Too bad.' What they don't realize is that this is part of a bigger picture," says Caron. "The flavor of downtown is changing. Rents being what they are, soon only big chain stores are going to be able to afford it here. Lee Slaff of Commercial Investment Services may say, 'Oh, but it's gonna be a great Healing Arts Center,' but that belies the point. You're not going to see items like mine in Mervyn's."

Slaff wouldn't discuss the deal, but noted that SCAC's tenancy has changed over the years, with many leaving after the earthquake, and that Actor's Theater is bustling.

"What Jay's doing is retail, not art," said Slaff, insisting that the rent being asked on the space--a $500 increase from last year, according to Caron--is not high for an off-mall building on today's market. As for the death of the arts, Slaff pointed out the city is considering converting the former Salz site to an artist live/work space.

But Caron says tourists want more funky stores downtown.

"I had a guy from San Diego ask, almost in an angry voice, where all the funky stores are. I told him it was out of my hands, but the town's changing. Then I sent him to Rivendell, and the other stores on Squid Row. But after he'd gone I realized that Shen Gallery, Many Hands Gallery and Gravago all began here. If people want artistic spaces, they need to support them, otherwise they'll wake up one day and Santa Cruz will be just another Fremont." Or (guilty gulp) a satellite of San Francisco.

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From the June 12-19, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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