Erecting a public toilet in San Francisco costs more than buying a mansion in Cleveland. Why?
By Joe Eskenazi
Let me be the first to say that there’s nothing ostensibly wrong with the public restroom in Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle, just past Masonic.
It’s a cute little building about the size of a public pool snack hut with stainless steel facilities, cream and Kelly green tiles and open-air cage-like doors not unlike the ones you’ll find on any number of homes in the Outer Sunset (the airy portals are meant to discourage loitering).
So, yes, I was startled to find out this prefabricated concrete and faux-log cabin structure cost about as much as, say, a Tudor mansion in Cleveland.
That’s right, it’s the $400,000 public john.
The Examiner reported this week on the eye-popping price tag of the Panhandle Pissoire, yet neglected to answer a critical question in its story: Why in God’s name does a public restroom cost more than Giants infielder Kevin Frandsen?
Recreation and Parks Department spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis has a succinct answer: It costs a lot of money to get things done in the City. When you unbuckle your belt and settle on to the toilet seat with the latest copy of the S.F. Weekly to keep you company, you’re not just using the restroom. You’re occupying the end result of hundreds of hours of wheeling and deal-making and legislating.
In order to erect the Panhandle john, area residents and the city first locked horns over whether to clear out some old trees. The city backed down on that one (“they’re eventually going to keel over anyways,” sniffed Dennis), consuming time and, of course, money.
The pre-fabricated restroom cost between $100,000 and $150,000 and had to be trucked in from the factory in Kentucky. But before that could happen, the john had to pass muster with both the Recreation and Park Commission and the Art Commission (more time and money). Then archaic plumbing on the site had to be renovated (ditto) and, finally, the structure had to be assembled and all the concrete poured by union workers earning top dollar.
By the way, don’t forget that a company bidding to craft johns for the city must comply with regulations set forth by the Americans With Disabilities Act or the city’s own minority- or female-owned business provisions.
Suddenly, the estimated $500,000 cost of installing more of these Kentucky-built restrooms around the city is starting to sound damn cheap.
Photo | Jim Herd
While even a rudimentary Internet search reveals prefabricated restroom companies crafting johns for a fraction of $150,000 (and located a lot closer than the Bluegrass State), Dennis said the City paid heavily to purchase a restroom that could take a crushing and keep on flushing.
“Bathrooms take a huge beating, they are the whipping boys of our system. They are treated like crap day-in and day-out,” says Dennis, who takes the misuse of municipal facilities personally.
“I got there Thursday and some [uncouth] idiot was shaving. That’s totally inappropriate to do in a public bathroom. What if I came up and started shaving my legs next to you? What would you think of me?”
Well, since that scenario implies Dennis would be in the men’s room, I’m not sure what I’d think.
Anyhow, for those thinking $400,000 to 500,000 is still too much for a public lavatory, consider that the Sava Pool on 19th Ave. and Wawona will require a cool $17 million to renovate. You could build, like, 34 toilets for that.
“Four hundred thousand dollars? Woah, that’s a lot of money,” said a bleary eyed homeless man unable to gain entry to the locked Panhandle john at 8:15 on Friday morning.
“But, then again, I don’t pay taxes.”