Photo: Ethan Cheng
The sign put up by the facilities manager of North Berkeley Properties at 2115 Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley to warn people about a liquid repellent coating on the wall. Photo: Ethan Cheng

An employee at a downtown Berkeley business was getting tired of people using an alleyway on Shattuck Avenue as a toilet and decided to do something about it.

Ethan Cheng, the facilities manager at North Berkeley Properties, said the recessed space between Arinell Pizza at 2119 Shattuck and Bank of America at 2129 has had problems with graffiti and public urination for as long as he can remember, even though it is checked and cleaned up regularly by the downtown Berkeley ambassadors.

“I never could figure out how to fix the issue until I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how the San Francisco Public Works Department was trying to combat a similar issue on its public walls,” Cheng told Berkeleyside.

The article detailed how a special coat of paint applied to a wall can have the effect of spraying any liquid back in the direction from which it came (see a demonstration in the video below, posted by SF Public Works on Twitter.)

The San Franciso pilot program of the “pee-proof walls” was itself modeled on one implemented in Germany. The liquid-repelling paint was applied to walls in Hamburg’s St. Pauli neighborhood, where beer drinkers were known to forgo finding a public restroom.

Cheng said he researched a few different manufacturers and opted to use a different, but similar paint coating than that used by San Francisco Public Works. It is made by a company called Isokor USA LLC.

“About a month ago our maintenance team applied the hydrophobic coating to the brick walls and metal door,” he said. “My contractors used a water bottle to test it out and it seemed to somewhat work compared to the old surface.”

However, Cheng continued to see people using the wall periodically, though they did walk away with lightly soaked shoes and pants.

“I decided that we should at least give people a fair warning of the possible consequences and a viable alternative regarding the public restrooms not too far away, so I ordered a custom sign,” he said.

Cheng said the situation has definitely improved since the paint and the sign went up, although there are still “occasional issues.”

“The custom sign does seem to amuse people and draws attention to the alleyway, so maybe a few extra pairs of eyes directed towards the alley helps in its own way,” he said.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...