California Drops $1.7 Million on Single Public Toilet

Democrats scrap celebration of toilet purchase after media ridicule exorbitant price tag

A public restroom in San Francisco / Wikimedia Commons
October 20, 2022

California Democrats secured $1.7 million in state funding for a single public toilet in a San Francisco park, and they're now scrapping an event celebrating the investment following backlash over the exorbitant price tag.

Assemblyman Matt Haney (D.) successfully included funding in the state budget for a bathroom in San Francisco's Noe Valley Town Square after residents expressed a need for a restroom in the 150-square-foot space, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday. The city's Recreation and Parks Department came up with the $1.7 million estimate and determined the bathroom would not be ready to use until 2025.

Haney initially touted the investment and defended the price tag to the Chronicle, saying, "They told me $1.7 million, and I got $1.7 million. … I didn't have the option of bringing home less of the bacon when it comes to building a toilet." He also planned a Wednesday press conference in Noe Valley Town Square to celebrate the toilet, alongside state senator Scott Wiener (D.) and city supervisor Rafael Mandelman (D.).

But after the Chronicle on Wednesday morning published a column ridiculing the cost of the toilet and quoting experts who called the project's price tag absurd, Haney abruptly canceled the event. Now he's changing his tune about the cost to build the toilet and says he'll send a formal letter to the Recreation and Parks Department demanding an explanation for the project's price and timeline.

"I'm glad that Noe Valley will at some point get a bathroom, but it shouldn't cost this much and it shouldn't take this long, and I'm angry about it," Haney told the Chronicle. "It's not something I want to celebrate right now."

Tom Hardiman, the executive director of the Modular Building Institute, a construction trade association in Charlottesville, Va., was taken aback when the Chronicle informed him of the cost to build the toilet.

"This is to build one public restroom?" Hardiman asked. "What are they making it out of—gold and fine Italian marble? It would be comical if it wasn't so tragically flawed."

Hardiman said that within minutes he was able to find a contractor who installed seven bathrooms in Los Angeles for the same amount San Francisco is spending to build one. Those toilets could be delivered in just eight months, he said, whereas San Francisco's single toilet is expected to take more than two years to build.