McKinley Park has had bathroom closures in recent months because people have flushed needles down the toilets. The city is considering whether to spend $50,000 on a mechanical grinder to combat the problem. Scott Lorenzo
McKinley Park has had bathroom closures in recent months because people have flushed needles down the toilets. The city is considering whether to spend $50,000 on a mechanical grinder to combat the problem. Scott Lorenzo

City Beat

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City Beat

Drug needles are damaging the toilets in this iconic Sacramento park

By Ryan Lillis

rlillis@sacbee.com

November 20, 2017 03:55 AM

UPDATED November 21, 2017 08:25 AM

Hypodermic needles are being flushed so often down the toilets in McKinley Park, damaged sewer systems have forced the city to shut down the bathrooms twice in recent months.

City officials think they may have found a fix.

The City Council will consider Tuesday spending $50,000 for a mechanical grinder that would chew up needles and other objects flushed down the toilets in the East Sacramento park. The bathroom is next to the city’s most heavily used playground, and city officials want to avoid permanently shutting down the facility.

“This is another problem we have with drug users, but if you close down the bathrooms, then the rest of the our constituents have no facilities – and that is not the kind of city I envision,” said Councilman Jeff Harris, who represents East Sacramento. “Changing behavior by simply taking an amenity out of play, that’s not what I think is the proper solution.”

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Harris said the issue has festered for months. Needles have damaged a pump that drives waste from the park bathrooms into the city’s underground sewer system, requiring the city to close bathrooms for days while the pump was being fixed.

The last time the bathrooms were shut down two months ago, the city installed PortaPotties and hand washing stations in the park. But within a day, large objects had been stuffed in the toilets of the portable bathrooms and had to be removed.

Harris said the $50,000 grinder investment “is not going to cause a lot of pain” to the city’s budget. He said the only other option to keep the bathrooms running is to hire paid attendants to provide security.

Installing a grinder in the park bathroom would be another step in the city’s ongoing efforts to keep parks clean and safe.

The City Council last week adopted an ordinance aimed at curbing bad behavior in city parks. Under the new rules, police can remove anyone who violates park regulations – including drinking alcohol or littering. If offenders refuse to leave or return within 24 hours, police can cite them with an infraction. Those who violate the ordinance three times in a six-month period could be charged with a misdemeanor.

McKinley Park has “intermittent” issues with homeless campers and unruly behavior, said Harris, who supported the new ordinance.

“It’s about managing behavior and maintaining safety in our parks, that’s what we want to achieve,” he said. “Everybody deserves to be safe.”

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis