Portable Sanitation Plays An Important Role In The California Drought

Portable sanitation and Harvey’s Honey Huts play an important role in providing vital services during the massive California drought.
Portable Sanitation Plays An Important Role In The California Drought
Harvey and Jennifer Smith and their company, Harvey’s Honey Huts, provided critical portable sanitation services in drought-stricken California. Here the couple is shown with some PolyPortables restrooms set up near the California coast and the famous Hearst Castle at San Simeon.

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THE TEAM

Jennifer Smith and her husband, Harvey, own Harvey’s Honey Huts in Cambria, Calif., a small tourist town along the state’s central coast. She works out of her home or, as she puts it, “wherever I am with my iPad and iPhone.” Daughter Amy Smith Ridgway, working out of her home, answers phones and does bookkeeping.

Honey Huts has four drivers who gather each morning at the company’s storage yard. One of the drivers has the role of manager and handles employees, schedules and supplies, and stays in touch with the team via iPhones. “Thank God for the electronic age because it’s made running a crazy business in the middle of nowhere very easy,” Smith says.

COMPANY HISTORY

In 1979, the recently married Smiths left Los Angeles and moved their blended family to Cambria to begin a new life. After getting settled they ran an ad in the paper – “Looking for successful business for sale.”

“We got lots of grocery stores and motels,” Smith recounts. “And then this man contacted us and said he had a portable toilet company for sale.” She mentioned it to her mother, Molly Franco, who said she knew Andy Gump, a PRO in Los Angeles, and his daughter. Franco introduced them and Harvey went to work for the Gumps for a short while to learn the business. The company they bought came with 200 metal and wooden restrooms, two trucks, a contract at Vandenberg Air Force Base nearly 100 miles away and a handful of construction projects.

The first order of business was to grow the company, Smith says. “I’d go door to door and make phone calls. I’d see a peg in the ground and a shovel of dirt and say, ‘Hey, we want this job.’” Meanwhile, at Vandenberg, Harvey was asked to set up a restroom at the end of the road and was told a satellite would be launched from there in a couple years. The company won all the contracts involved in the West Coast space shuttle project.

Their entrée into the special events market came when Smith saw an ad for the local Harbor Festival. She contacted the organizers and ended up being their contractor for 30 years.

Today 40 percent of their business is special events. The Smiths work within about a 100-mile radius and they’ve got 1,100 units, most from PolyPortables, four Wells Cargo restroom trailers and five service trucks.

THE CHALLENGE

In 2014 California experienced one of the worst droughts on record. In January the governor declared a state of emergency, eventually leading to mandatory water restrictions. Many towns, state parks and tourist attractions closed their public restrooms.

One of the affected tourist areas was the Hearst Castle near San Simeon, originally built for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst but now part of the California state park system, receiving about 700,000 visitors annually. Restrooms were closed in March at the nearby state park and campground and shortly after that at the visitor center. Cambria also closed its public restrooms.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

To replace its public facilities, the Town of Cambria asked Smith to bring in portable restrooms. The state used a bidding process for the Hearst facilities. Because the company already had a long-standing contract with the Hearst organization to service eight state-owned units at the self-guided tourist area at the Castle, they were on the list of companies contacted. They’re also the preferred provider for charity events at the Hearst Ranch.

The Smiths had won a similar contract during a drought 25 years earlier but were put in a bad situation when the state buckled under pressure and reopened the public facilities after only two weeks. So Smith was very careful with this bid.

“I asked 17 questions and did not submit a bid until every single one was answered verbally and in writing,” she says. Her calculations included everything she could think of – supplies, gas, vehicle wear and tear, insurance, disposal, overtime pay, even the cost of replacing their heart-design logo stickers, which tend to get ripped off. She also included recouping her investment in the new equipment she had to buy since her existing inventory was already committed.

They won all the contracts, which are tentatively scheduled to go through May, depending on weather and funding.

BY THE NUMBERS

A total of 100 PolyPortables units with hand sanitizer and toilet seat covers and 20 PolyPortables hand-wash stations are involved in the various drought-related projects.

The state park requested green units, otherwise the company used their special event white units.

Seven standard and five wheelchair-accessible units and two hand-wash stations were set up at three locations in Cambria in February. Another 42 were taken to the state park in March – 17 standard and nine wheelchair-accessible and ADA-compliant units spread out across the main campground and the rest at three day-use areas. No hand-wash stations were requested at the campground as the state was concerned campers would use them to wash dishes.

In July, 30 standard and eight wheelchair-accessible and ADA-compliant units and 11 hand-wash stations were set up in front of the Hearst visitor center and six other parking lot locations. The eight state-owned units at the Castle were already in place but now got more use as employees were required to use them.

Units were delivered using the company’s vacuum trucks which carry two units each, two Mighty Mite transport trailers (one holding 18 units, the other 12), and two Silverado flatbeds with Tommy Gate liftgates.

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

Using a 2009 International 4200, a 2008 Chevrolet C7500 and a 2013 Ford F‑550, all built out by TankTec with 1,500-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks and Masport Inc. pumps, units were serviced once a day during the summer (twice during peak weekends). Technicians started with the Hearst-related facilities from 6 to 9 a.m. before tourists arrived, then the town units at 9 a.m., late enough to avoid disturbing guests at nearby motels, before heading out on their regular routes. Service tapered off with lighter demand during the winter. The company uses Green Way deodorant products from PolyPortables and waste is taken to the Santa Maria treatment facility 65 miles away.

Harvey also personally checked all the units almost every day, sometimes twice a day. In addition, the Hearst organization kept the visitor center units stocked and cleaned during the day.

STEPPING UP THEIR GAME

To meet the increased drought-related workload, Smith chose not to hire temps but instead offer overtime to her employees. “They have been absolutely amazing,” she says of how employees have responded to higher demand.

Smith’s workload has also increased as she is fanatical about personally checking equipment in the field to ensure everything is in top shape and repair and maintenance issues are caught early on. “I’m on my game every day,” she says. 



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