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For Emergencies Only: SF's Secret Public Bathrooms 

Wednesday, Sep 2 2015
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For function-obsessed scribes at the Chronicle, 2015 has been the summer of shit.

Since August 1, the newspaper has published at least eight articles decrying the human effluvia on our city's streets. As San Francisco prepares to pretty itself to host Super Bowl fans, there are more public poopers and pissers than ever, declared the outraged paper.

Much blame has been assigned to the city's estimated 6,800 homeless — most of whom, as many a leg-crossing tourist on a fruitless quest for a Starbucks has discovered, have nowhere else to go. Public bathrooms are in such short supply that the city now wheels out temporary portable bathrooms to hotspots like Sixth Street. But it turns out there are as many as 45 under-utilized public bathrooms in San Francisco — at each of the city's fire stations.

Ground-floor restrooms at fire stations are public restrooms, available between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. (unless there's a fire, in which case the bathroom is closed, no matter how dire the other emergency).

One would think this could help stem the tide of urine that's drowning us (and caused one corroded light pole to collapse).

The problem is that nobody seems aware the bathrooms are available.

"Nobody on our staff had heard about it," says Jennifer Friedenbach, the Coalition on Homelessness's Executive Director. "The city should put the word out that they're available."

This could be because even the firefighters themselves don't know their station bathrooms are public pissoirs. SF Weekly was alerted to the situation only by the vigilance of Michael Petrelis, a controversial Castro District blogger and activist (who was once served a restraining order for photographing a politician in a City Hall public restroom). And Petrelis was only made aware of the policy after he received a July 30 SFFD memo via the Fire Commission, where he'd been raising a stink about increasing public access to meetings.

When Petrelis put the policy to the test at his local fire station, the firefighters there were unaware of the public access rule, but happily escorted him to the toilet, he reported on his blog.

This covertness could be by design. SFFD policy also allows firefighters to deny access to anyone who appears inebriated. That would rule out imbibing revelers. It could also rule out a fair number of the city's homeless, many of whom suffer from addiction — in other words, the people most in need would find the fire station bathrooms off limits.

Which means it's back to the streets — and watching where you step.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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