$1.7m toilet causes stink in San Francisco

Noe Valley is an upper-middle class neighbourhood in the centre of San Francisco (Yaman32/CC BY-SA 3.0)
A row has broken out following claims that it will cost $1.7m and take two years to build a small public toilet in San Francisco.

The 14-sq-m restroom containing just one toilet is planned for the popular town square of the Noe Valley district in the centre of the city, which hosts markets and other events.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, which is in charge of the scheme, has received criticism from state officials over its cost.

A planned ceremony for the restroom was cancelled last week after California state Assemblymember Matt Haney, who initially backed the project and secured the money for it, objected to the price.

“The cost is insane. The process is insane. The amount of time it takes is insane,” he told the Chronicle.

And the state’s governor Gavin Newsom has also waded in.

“A single, small bathroom should not cost $1.7 million,” the governor’s communications director wrote in a statement to the newspaper.

“The state will hold funding until San Francisco delivers a plan to use this public money more efficiently. If they cannot, we will go back to the legislature to revoke this appropriation.”

But in a letter responding to Assemblymember Haney’s criticism, Recreation and Parks Department general manager Phil Ginsburg blamed the startling figure on soaring construction costs and the bureaucratic hoops city politicians themselves previously decided that even small public projects must jump through.

For instance, Ginsburg said, city laws require his department to seek approval from or partner with Public Works, the Planning Department, the Department of Building Inspection, the Arts Commission to review design, the Public Utilities Commission, the Mayor’s Office of Disability, and utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co, the Chronicle said.

Ginsburg further pointed out that his department was restricted in its procurement options because the city’s Board of Supervisors previously banned the city from doing business with companies in 30 states because those states discriminated against LGBT people, restricted abortion rights or suppressed voting rights, the newspaper reported.

Earlier this year, San Francisco was found to be the world’s most expensive city to carry out a construction project (see further reading).

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