A lack of restrooms along the Metro Orange Line has homeowners who live on the bustling bus route seeing red.
Residents say the shortage of toilets has led some riders to create their own bathrooms in the alleys and narrow walkways that separate their backyards from the concrete thoroughfare. In Winnetka, homeowners near the Pierce College stop say they frequently find human excrement and can smell the stench of urine. Even dirty diapers are not uncommon.
"It's a huge problem. And it isn't getting cleaned up," said Eric Lewis, president of the Winnetka Neighborhood Council. "And these aren't just homeless people. There are well-dressed younger people that we think are (Pierce) students."
As it sought a solution, the council found that while the offenders often come from the bus line, because the makeshift bathroom is an alleyway one house length north of the stop, just which entities are responsible for cleanup or enforcement is unclear.
In June, the council fired off a letter to Pierce, asking the school to install portable bathrooms at the nearby 394-spot Park & Ride.
School officials said that letter was forwarded to offices of the Los Angeles Community College District but were quick to point to Metro as the agency the neighbors should be addressing.
"That land is leased to Metro, and their lease includes sewage and utilities," said Pierce College President Kathleen Burke-Kelly. The land is leased to the agency under a 40-year agreement.
She dismissed the idea that Pierce students were part of the problem. "There are bathrooms throughout the campus. There are some in the village and some in both of the gyms," she said. "I have a hard time believing that students wouldn't make the walk to a bathroom."
That sentiment was echoed by district officials. "To the best of my understanding, the alleyway where most of this is happening is the city's land," said Leila Menzies, vice president of administration for risk management and health for the L.A. Community College District. "And in their response, they point out that they only have three public restrooms in the whole system. Basically, they don't do bathrooms."
Rick Jager, a Metro spokesman, confirmed that. "We have received the neighborhood council's letter, as well as requests from residents through our customer service number," he said. "The land at the Park & Ride is owned by Pierce College. We have no jurisdiction to install a bathroom, and we made a decision long ago not to install restrooms except at three major transportation hubs. The obvious reason is the maintenance costs involved, and they are also magnets for crime."
Jager said the 3- to 6-foot area separating homes from a noise-abatement wall along the line does belong to Metro, and maintenance would be asked to clean up the area, but that the alleyway on the other side belongs to the city.
The Department of Public Works' Bureau of Street Services, in an Oct. 30, 2012, report on the issue, said its workers wouldn't clean up most of the messes on that stretch because the problem is considered hazardous waste -- and that the area behind the noise-abatement wall belongs to Metro, not city.
Though the act of doing your business in public is a crime, the responsibility for penal-code enforcement along the Orange Line is also tricky, with the Sheriff's Department contracted to patrol the line itself and the Los Angeles Police Department responsible for nearby alleys.
Still, residents and riders say the underlying issue isn't enforcement or cleanup -- it's that there are only two usable restrooms along the Orange Line's 14-mile stretch. One green-domed self-cleaning facility is at the North Hollywood stop, the other is in Van Nuys, both far from the Chatsworth terminus.
"I go to the bathroom before I leave, because I know there isn't anywhere to go," said Pierce College student Maria Salvador.