Park bathroom controversy in Moss Beach

Presentation by Bill Hill and Neil Merrilees

Click here for a pdf of the presentation slides (8.9 MB).

Discussion following presentation

The Montara Water and Sanitary District (MWSD) took up an issue on Thursday that has been smoldering in the community for some time: Whether not to have bathrooms at Moss Beach Park.

You may need a little background understand the issue more fully:

Moss Beach Park was built by a grassroots effort and is located just off Highway 1. It is designed as a children’s park but it doesn’t have a bathroom. For a time the foundation that runs the park had port-potties on the site but with funds running low those were removed about six months ago.

Many of the community volunteers who built the park are angry that the park still has no permanent bathroom and much of that anger is directed at the MWSD Board of Directors which is seen as obstructing the necessary permitting required to hook the bathroom into the water and sewer system.

Members of the MWSD board have pointed out that they are concerned that allowing a water connection for a flush toilet at the Moss Beach Park, however desirable in and of itself, would have the unintended consequence of allowing other projects to also make claims for water connections. MWSD has said that water supplies are sharply limited and are not sufficient to fulfill its current demands, let alone add new ones.

With an election coming this fall this makes for interesting politics. The public anger over this issue, if it is not soon resolved, may result in a number of new candidates vying for seats (which, politically speaking, is likely to prove a greater threat to the water connection moratorium than the bathroom itself). In addition, as MWSD seeks park powers this issue may be seen as a test of their capabilities–if they cannot resolve this matter, one with a clear public need, wide public support and funds provided by the County to pay expenses, then citizens may consider granting authority over parks issues to a different entity.

Which brings us to the video of last Thursday’s meeting.

In the first video Bill Hill (head of the non-profit which owns Moss Beach Park) and Neil Merrilees (a member of the Midcoast Community Council) make a joint presentation to the MWSD board showing extensive evidence that a school building was sited on the Moss Beach Park parcel until it burned down in 1971. A critical part of their case is that the school had flush toilets and were connected to the water system–thus giving the MWSD a clear rationale to grant the park a water connection sufficient for a single toilet without fear that doing so would require MWSD to also offer connections to residential parcels.

This second video captures much of the discussion that follows the presentation.

Of the four MWSD board members present Bob Ptacek spoke first in favor of the bathroom proposal, agreeing that Bill and Neil provided enough evidence of a prior connection and that limits on the water’s use could be crafted to prevent residential or other unintended uses in the future.

Kathryn Slater-Carter spoke next. She opposed the proposal in that it called for flush toilets. She repeatedly chastised the presenters and supporters of the flush toilet proposal calling it “old technology” and inexplicably insisted that vault toilets were a more modern, more green alternative, and one that could be readily approved by the board.

(A vault toilet is a covered cesspool where the waste material is periodically pumped out and trucked to a location with a functioning sanitary system where the waste is then discharged and treated.)

Scott Boyd expressed support for a vault toilet in that it would not require an additional demand on scarce water supplies and, given that sewer connections are easy to obtain, would allow the bathroom to be built with little difficulty as far as permits were concerned. He also recognized that a vault toilet was not the desired solution by many in the community and called for a subcommittee to be formed to focus on the many issues surrounding the flush toilet and rival options and to answer many of the unanswered questions. (At the end of the meting Boyd and Perkovic were appointed to that committee.)

Last to speak was MWSD president Paul Perkovic who surprised many by speaking favorably about having a bathroom built on the Moss Beach Park, although he also said that he required additional proof to be convinced that the parcel had a sewer connection in the past. He suggested that the pipes be examined with remote television cameras, or that existing videos be reviewed, in order to find that evidence. His portion of the video is incomplete (see note, below). The entire meeting was also filmed by Scott Boyd and will be published on the MWSD site soon. I have also written Paul and offered him the opportunity to present a short, written summary of his views as expressed at the meeting.

Video by Darin Boville

Note: The video is incomplete and cuts out during Paul Perkovic’s response. I had not intended to videotape the meeting but after MCTV failed to arrive (they showed up over half an hour late) I decided to shoot it with the camera I had with me–but I did not have enough battery power to capture the entire meeting.

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