SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hoping to get ahead of what he called a looming “crisis” come spring, city Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino invited council discussion by suggesting the installation of portable toilets at the Woodlawn Garage.
The thinking is that those portable toilets would be available for use during the late-night and early morning hours by the city’s homeless population after the April 30 lease conclusion of the temporary Code Blue shelter on Adelphi Street.
“We know the Woodlawn Garage – for better or worse and mostly for worse, the Woodlawn Garage is where many of the unhoused congregate,” Montagnino said. “I think we as a civilized society owe the most vulnerable members of society some modicum of dignity where we can provide it. When Code Blue closes there will be no place – I repeat - no place in the city of Saratoga Springs where after-hours a public toilet is accessible by anyone.”
Preliminary inquiries indicated costs would be approximately just under $1,000 per month for two handicap-accessible and wheelchair-accessible portable toilets regularly serviced, Montagnino added.
The proposal as brought to the council table, however, raised several concerns among the other council members, who argued its “discussion and vote” format lacked clarity about how the logistics might work, as well as lacking specific information regarding where revenue would be sourced, how it would be monitored or policed during the overnight period, issues of fair biding practices, and reports of a less-than-stellar track record of previous similar attempts made by the city.
“I think we’ve got a cart way before the horse in this situation,” city Mayor Ron Kim said, adding that earlier attempts by previous DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco resulted in “a really bad situation where a number of issues occurred that we don’t have to go into in the public realm here. It’s my understanding that Commissioner Scirocco basically saw this as a failure,” Kim said. “I think we need to get public input on this, but my view is we ought to be working very hard to get a permanent shelter as soon as possible. And I’m not sure this makes any sense at all.”
“Mr. Mayor, when we talk about what doesn’t make any sense at all,” Montagnino responded, “is we have the permanent shelter. Back in October I was there with you when we announced the permanent shelter,” the commissioner said, referencing last year’s announcement by the city that it would site a permanent 24/7 shelter on Woodlawn Avenue in 2023, after converting the city-owned building that had previously served as the Senior Center.
Three months later, in January 2023, some members of the Saratoga Central Catholic School - which partially borders the Williams Street Senior Center - began to express concerns regarding the siting of a shelter in close proximity to the private school. By February, the shelter proposal met with an increasing backlash from parents and community members.
“People yelled at you and you caved,” Montagnino said to Kim. “The building that was earmarked for that permanent shelter will lay fallow while our unhoused population will suffer for the foreseeable future.”
Kim responded to Montagnino’s criticism by providing a timeline. “What happened was Shelters of Saratoga abandoned the plan and the resolution that I brought to this table that people voted 5-0 to support. They walked away from that, so we had to take a step back,” Kim said. “I didn’t cave. I went into the school and told them - in a very hostile audience - that Williams Street was still on the table, that it still could be the shelter, but I wanted three things to happen: we figure out what we need, we figure out the facility, and most importantly now, we figure out who will actually provide that service,” Mayor Kim said. “Williams Street is still on the table, and it remains on the table.”
Commissioners Golub, Moran and Sanghvi each expressed concern about the way the portable toilets idea was presented this week, as well as the lack of detailed clarity regarding how the installation and maintenance of the portable toilets would be accomplished. Commissioner Sanghvi floated the traction-gaining suggestion that the currently operational public bathrooms in Congress Park could be open for extended hours, after the Code Blue lease runs out on April 30.
Ultimately, the 22-minute discussion March 8 at the council table regarding the installation of two public toilets at the Woodlawn Garage lacked gaining a second motion, subsequently failing to move the issue to a public hearing on March 21.
Public Hearings approved to take place March 21:
•The City Council will host a Public Hearing on Tuesday, March 21 during its regular council meeting regarding potential earlier start times of those meetings.
Meetings – which generally take place on the first and third Tuesday of every month – start at 7 p.m. Last month, the mayor suggested the start time be relocated to 5 p.m. The purpose of the hearing on March 21 is to solicit opinions from the public regarding a potential earlier starting time, the mayor said.
One suggestion implemented at the March 7 council meeting featured an expansion of the time allotted each public speaker - from 2 minutes previously, to 4 minutes. Additionally, two Public Comment Periods – one at the start of the meeting and one at the end of the meeting – were featured.
• Public Hearing on a proposed ordinance amending city Municipal Code entitled “General Legislation” to add a chapter titled “Human Rights Protection.” The first of the proposed “Human Rights” protections is slated as the protection of reproductive rights. “We invite the public to comment on this important local legislation that will locally protect the right to choose,” city Mayor Ron Kim said.
• Public Hearing regarding the establishment of an Independent advisory committee to review the city’s compliance to Police Reform Task Force recommendations as ratified in 2021.