Saving Mendo’s Throne

by Tim Stelloh, November 24, 2009

The toilet in question

Mendo's public toilet

You might call it an institution — a haven of freedom and liberty in that bourgeois airy-fairyland known as Mendocino Village.

Or maybe you call it the place to take a leak after a long night of guzzling Pabst draft and stomping your soil-clogged boots to Waylon Jennings at Dick's Place.

Whatever your preference, Mendo's only public restroom is in trouble. Thanks to California's budgetary bloodletting, the hatchet man has come a-callin', and the $15,000 from state park coffers that had funded the bathroom — which is on Mendocino Headlands State Park land — is no more. (Ditto with a dozen other state parks and public toilets around the county.) Late last month, the village sprung to action and a meeting was convened; donations were collected and the denizens of Mendocino Village came up with enough cash to keep the toilet open for business.

Thus, the leakers could keep leaking, the hippies could take their baths and the out-of-towners could waddle the headlands without bursting at the bladder.

But the success was fleeting.

The money collected was only good for a few months, according to Caleb Cimmiyotti, who, along with nearly a dozen other business- and home-owners — including Tom Honer, of Harvest Market, and Debra DeGraw, of the Chamber of Commerce — recently sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors pleading for a good ol' fashioned (local) government takeover.

“As these are the only public facilities for both the local and tourist populations to use, local business people have stepped forward to fulfill the need and provide temporary funding to keep the restrooms open,” the letter reads. “However, they cannot do this indefinitely during these difficult economic times… The town of Mendocino produces millions of dollars in tax revenue for the County with its property, sales, business, and bed taxes. In order to continue to generate those tax dollars from a tourist based economy, the County must provide the funds to operate this essential service.”

The group, Cimmiyotti said, had made a “moral argument” to the Supes. “People need to be able to use a bathroom because businesses have very little water,” he said. “They can only flush the bathroom once a day.” If the Supes didn't warm to morality, Cimmiyotti and crew had other plans. They'd begun collecting signatures — as of last count, more than 300, he said — and scanning the municipal code to see if they couldn't oblige the board to see things their way.

Until early this week, it seemed like the tactic might work. David Colfax, Mendo's rep on the Board of Supervisors, said he'd agreed to put the item on the board's December 1 agenda. During a Monday meeting, however, the County made its position clear, Colfax said: It could do nothing to help.

“The board's position, and the county's position — which is the same as most, if not all counties — is that we're in no position to backfill anything [the state has] cut back on,” he said. That's from a bargaining perspective and that's the point of view from reality. That's where we are.”

Colfax said the group could, perhaps, discuss the issue at a future Supes meeting as a general policy matter. But at the moment, he said, the keepers of Mendo's thrown are “exploring their options.”

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