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Downtown San Francisco: Human waste increasingly found in Westfield mall elevators, staff say

a red car drives past a brick building
The Westfield San Francisco Centre on May 15, 2023 | Garrett Leahy/The Standard | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Seeing feces on the ground is not uncommon in the city by the bay. But human waste has been showing up somewhere else: the elevators in Downtown San Francisco’s Westfield Centre.

“It’s like twice a week now. It used to be once a month,” said Abimael Garcia, who manages janitors at Westfield. “So lately, it’s increased.”

Garcia thinks people go in the elevators as they are the closest semi-private spaces to Mission Street, where there are often people camped. Multiple workers said the only regularly used public restrooms at the mall are on the second floor.

“It’s a long way to the bathrooms from Mission [Street],” Garcia said. “The elevators are closest to the street. It’s so easy.”

Other restrooms such as those in the food court or retail stores are often closed due to sanitation issues or drug use, workers said. The Standard overheard a manager at the Westfield Bloomingdale’s say one of the store's restrooms would be closed for the rest of the day on Monday because “something happened in there.”

Employees at the Century Theatres inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre say they have seen human waste in one of the mall's elevators. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Garcia and other mall workers said the elevators along Mission Street occasionally have feces in them, whereas the elevators along Market Street are often much cleaner.

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“The worst I’ve seen in the [Market Street] elevators is a spilled Starbucks,” said Kim, a manager at Westfield’s Century Theatre who asked to be identified by her first name only. “I take those elevators all the time.”

Kim said she saw feces in one of the elevators that leads from the theater to Mission Street about two weeks ago, and that someone appeared to have stepped in it.

“There was this woman who came in, and she was furious about the mess in the elevator,” Kim said. “That was my second day as manager.”

‘Why Am I Slipping?’

People shop inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Julio Tating, a Bloomingdale’s employee who walks the floor to prevent shoplifters, said he saw feces in the elevator closest to the eastern door leading out of the department store onto Mission Street as recently as Sunday.

It “looked like a breakfast sausage,” Tating said.

Tating said he saw feces in the same elevator roughly 10 days earlier, and claims to have slipped in feces before while on duty.

“It’s like, 'Why am I slipping?'” Tating said. “This is dry tile. It shouldn’t be slippery like this.”

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The city’s 311 data shows 33 complaints of human waste around the Westfield mall in the past six months, but most complaints are mapped along Market Street.

Employees at San Francisco's Westfield Bloomingdale's say they have seen feces inside one of the mall's elevators. The elevator goes straight from the store to the fifth-floor movie theater. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Nordstrom announced its departure from the Westfield and the closing of its Nordstrom Rack store across the street in early May, blaming the “dynamics of the Downtown San Francisco market.” A few blocks away, Whole Foods' flagship store at Market and Eighth streets announced its closure in April due to staff safety concerns.

Adding more public restrooms in San Francisco has proven to be an expensive challenge in the past, including an infamous example in the form of a $1.7 million toilet for Noe Valley, although the cost was later reduced to $425,000.

While scraping human waste out of a mall elevator sounds like bitter work, for a 15-year custodial veteran like Garcia, it’s just another day on the job.

“I’ve worked at Jack London Square [and] here in Downtown, so I just think, ‘I got to get this done,’” Garcia said, chuckling. “If you think too much, you’ll never do it.”

Westfield did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com