Berkeley wants input on its public restrooms

The bathrooms at People’s Park. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

Berkeley wants to know what its residents think of public restrooms.

The city is conducting a citywide study and is holding a series of public meetings, culminating tomorrow, to gather input on the current conditions and future needs of its public bathrooms.

Resident Martin Nicolaus, an organizer with the Chavez Park Conservancy, attended the Oct. 22 meeting concerning the downtown area.  He said improvements are necessary.

“We are so far behind other cities, it’s embarrassing,” said Nicolaus, who has been researching municipalities as far away as Manteca to get ideas of how Berkeley should proceed.


The final public meeting, about West Berkeley, will be held Wednesday, Nov. 6. Earlier meetings covered the Adeline Corridor  Telegraph Area.

Residents approved Measure T1 by a landslide in 2016. The $100 million bond measure is slated to go toward infrastructure projects, which includes public restrooms during its first phase.

The city’s goal is to evaluate current restroom facilities, get community input, and research ecologically friendly options. Authorities hope to have some ideas for locations and designs, as well as upgrades for existing facilities, by December.

Cost analysis comes later in the process, as the city needs time to put together infrastructure recommendations for Measure T1 across a wide swath of departments with their own ideas about what the city needs.

“If we can identify appropriate locations (for new restrooms), we hope to bring a final list of sites to the (City Council) in June 2021,” said Roger Miller, the city’s project manager.

Miller and consultant Meg Prier went over current sites near downtown and where calls to the city’s non-emergency 311 number for non-emergency service calls have originated.

They also looked at where the city’s unhoused people typically gather and routes between commercial areas and public transit, where people going to and from work — and bus drivers on a break — might need a restroom.

They highlighted areas with no facility within a quarter mile.

“For those of us who are housed, it’s very unlikely we would walk a quarter of a mile to use a restroom,” Miller said. “There’s no specific code for restrooms, but we’re trying to get a ballpark idea.”

The city is aiming to provide one toilet per 15 to 25 homeless people, within 400 feet of campsites. Other ratios vary, depending on transit users, location of work sites, and location of parks and open-air markets.

Several ideas for addressing safety were also raised: Restroom designs with open space on the walls near the floor, so people outside can see if anyone is inside; having facilities in parking lots with attendants nearby; and San Francisco’s “Pit Stop” program, which has 24 mobile restrooms, staffed by attendants and including used-needle receptacles and dog waste stations.

“(Having an attendant) has been shown to cut down on the number of incidents,” said Prier. “Staffing cuts down on vandalism.”

The San Francisco units include running water, soap and hand towels. The program started in the Tenderloin in 2014. The program — which relies on street-cleaning data to determine where it’s needed most — was recognized by Harvard’s Kennedy School for innovation.

Nicolaus touted the “Portland Loo” model — named for Oregon’s largest city — that Emeryville has used since 2016. It was designed for an urban environment, with stainless steel and painted with a graffiti-resistant epoxy. He said it has a sewer hook-up and takes up about as much space as a parking spot.

“Maintaining permanent bathrooms is much cheaper than maintaining port-o-potties,” Nicolaus said.

The city hasn’t determined a budget for the project yet.

For existing restrooms, the city wants to improve signage, upgrade facilities and maintenance and have longer operating hours. The future could include partnering with other facilities that can provide public restrooms, as well as more temporary and permanent restrooms.

“It’s always mind-boggling in America that people can’t find restrooms,” said John Caner, the CEO of Downtown Berkeley Association. Caner suggested the city work with BART to provide better restroom access around stations.

“Our task is not to exclude anyone,” said Prier, the project manager. “Our task here is to provide a restroom for every single person who needs one.”

The final public meeting — to discuss the West Berkeley area — takes place on Nov. 6, at 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the community room on the second floor of the James Kenney Community Center, at 1720 8th Street.

For information about the restroom study, contact Meg Prier at megan@hyphae.net. For information about Measure T1projects, go to www.cityofberkeley.info/MeasureT1/.