SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — What began as the dream flush heard ‘round the world ran into trouble, however, when San Franciscans learned the price tag for a single-stall, 150-square-foot privy the city's parks and recreation department planned to install came to $1.7 million.
News of the costly comfort station spread quickly and far and soon, those who love to malign San Francisco began to share their opinions. Forbes magazine said it explained “why we can’t have nice things,” while the ever-staid Daily Mail accused a California Assembly member of “flushing money down the drain” while using the story as an opportunity to highlight the city’s high cost of living as well as its crime rate. The San Francisco Chronicle dubbed it “Toiletgate.” Another local news site, Mission Local, labeled it “Class for your ass.”
Since then, the proposed toilet has seen a few changes. With the cost now capped at $725,000, San Francisco’s 11-member Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure accepting the $1.7 million grant, as well as the donation of a prefabricated washroom given shortly after the hullaballoo last year by a manufacturer of public restrooms — the succinctly named Public Restroom Company — based in Nevada. The new plan also proposes using the balance of the funds for another public bathroom in Precita Park in nearby Bernal Heights.
The ill-fated toilet was destined for Noe Valley Town Square, a little plaza on 24th Street in the heart of the Noe Valley neighborhood and the site of public events as well as a weekly farmers market. There was no doubt a toilet is needed. State Assembly member Matt Haney, a Democrat and former San Francisco supervisor, scored the money after San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks requested it.
“They told me $1.7 million, and I got $1.7 million,” Haney told the San Francisco Chronicle this October. “I didn’t have the option of bringing home less of the bacon when it comes to building a toilet. A half a toilet or a toilet-maybe-someday is not much use to anyone.”
Back in the city by the bay, embarrassment flowed freely and people began to distance themselves from the project or, at the very least, let it be known that they also disapproved. Soon enough Haney was calling for an audit and Governor Gavin Newsom, a possible candidate for president, put the brakes on the project.
“The city is the most expensive in the world to build in — even topping Tokyo, Hong Kong and New York City. We’re No. 1! Even for places to go No. 1,” wrote one seasoned local reporter.
Tuesday’s vote, even after all the ink that has been spilled over the previous six months, still left room for a little grandstanding by supervisors.
Newly elected Supervisor Joel Engardio, calling the original price “outrageous,” said he's worried the city is headed for Toiletgate 2.0.
“It was $1.7 million for a toilet in Noe Valley and now we’re talking about $1.4 million for a toilet in Precita Park. That’s not much of an improvement; the people of San Francisco are fed up with the amount of money City Hall pays for things and how little residents get in return,” he said in a speech just before the vote.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes Noe Valley, thanked Recreation and Parks for their work to reduce the cost.
“I think it is a useful and happy thing that we will be getting at least one more, very much needed bathroom for Precita Park,” Mandelman said, urging his colleagues to vote yes.
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