After the $1.7 million toilet project released a torrent of outrage, the SF Board of Supervisors plopped down the cost with donations and state grants, approving the Noe Valley bathroom and maybe even a Precita Park bathroom too.
San Francisco media outlets had their intestines in a bundle when we learned of last October’s $1.7 million public toilet proposed to be installed in Noe Valley Town Square. It wasn’t mentioned much in that controversy, but Assemblymember Matt Haney had already secured the $1.7 million in state funds; but still, it just seemed to a normal person like that much money ought to buy several parks’ worth of toilets. Governor Gavin Newsom threatened to yank the $1.7 million appropriation over the high costs.
But relief was on the way when a pre-fab bathroom manufacturer offered to donate a free toilet, which would trim the cost to around $300,000 (for variables referred to as “soft costs,” like ADA review, environmental review, landscape design, permits fees, and staff time). And on Tuesday, the SF Board of Supervisors approved accepting the state grant, the pre-fab toilet donation from Volumetric Building Companies and Public Restroom Company, and a plan to put in not only the Noe Valley toilet, but if leftover funding allows, a bathroom in Precita Park too.
“We haven’t fixed the problems that generated the $1.7 million cost,” Noe Valley’s supervisor Rafael Mandelman said before the vote. “Departments, particularly Public Works, are in the practice of, and work hard to, move as much stuff out of the general fund to particular projects that they are billing for their projects. And I think it’s not transparent, and does lead to an overinflation of the cost of projects we take on.”
As seen above, the toilets are almost entirely paid for with state grants and donations. But that’s not going to happen for every city project. And it’s surely costing the city money that we adhere to a policy called the Chapter 12X law, which bans the city from doing business with “states that discriminate against LGBT people, restrict the right to choose, or suppress voting rights.” Plus, of course, we have those “soft costs.”
“We all remember the $1.7 million toilet at the Noe Valley Town Square a few months ago,” Supervisor Joel Engardio said Tuesday. “The price was so outrageous the media started calling it ‘Toiletgate.’ Now I’m worried we’re heading for ‘Toiletgate 2.0.’”
“We should be maximizing the state grant, so it does more than just pay for one toilet, plus ‘soft costs’ for another,” he said.
And Supervisor Hillary Ronen, in whose district the proposed Precita Park bathroom would sit, predicted that bathroom may have a price tag that “makes you want to pull your hair out.”
“The reason that it will be extremely expensive to install a bathroom in Precita Park is because there isn’t any of the infrastructure in place that’s needed,” she said. “There’s no close water main to plug into easily. There’s all of this infrastructure that must be created before the bathroom can be installed.”
“The users of Precita Park desperately need these bathrooms,” she added. “The residents around Precita Park will be grateful, because what ends up happening is park users use the front of their homes as places to urinate.”
And while this low-cost solution for the two proposed bathrooms passed Tuesday, not everyone was thrilled. Supervisor Connie Chan said before the vote, “We are setting a precedent by accepting a product from a state contractor that did not use union labor, and is from a state that is banned by our 12X [policy].”
The image at the top of this article is from a Rec and Park proposal, and the above image from Public Restroom Company may better reflect what’s coming to Noe Valley. Either way, the Noe Valley Town Square bathroom should be up and flushing by October 2023.
Image: SF Rec and Parks