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San Francisco’s $1.7 Million Public Toilet

Edward Ring

Director, Water and Energy Policy

Edward Ring
November 4, 2022

San Francisco’s $1.7 Million Public Toilet

If you want to know where California’s headed, dragging the rest of America in its wake, consider the $1.7 million single public toilet San Francisco is going to install in the city’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Don’t hold your breath, by the way, because if we’re lucky, the toilet will be available to the public sometime in 2025.

Everything about this toilet fiasco exemplifies how the system has broken down in California, failing normal working people in order to benefit special interests. To begin to identify these special interests, you can start with the California Assemblyman who obtained these funds from the state, Democrat Matt Haney.

Haney’s running for reelection this November, against another Democrat in this ultra Blue seat in an ultra Blue state. A quick scan of Haney’s top ten political contributors, all of whom made the “small contributor committee” maximum donation of $9,700, were either government employee unions such as the California Teachers Association, or unions representing employees of contractors that do mostly government work, such as the California State Association of Electrical Workers. Every one of them.

Like nearly every Democrat legislator in the one-party state, Haney owes his political career to government unions. It’s easy enough to verify this. Go to the California Secretary of State’s campaign finance website and scan through the 2022 data on donations to candidates.

This data, overwhelming in its consistency, demonstrates another sad truth about “democracy” in California. Haney, like nearly every other Democrat in California, doesn’t have to work hard to raise money. Republicans, on the other hand, have no choice, because they’re not owned by government unions who spend hundreds of millions every year on politics. Republicans have to perpetually organize grassroots fundraisers, collecting a little here and a little there, never getting ahead. That’s normal, by the way. But not for Democrats. Thanks to government unions, the financial advantage Democrats have in California is so one-sided it’s amazing any Republicans get elected. In return, Haney, along with his counterparts, does what he’s told.

In that context, spending $1.7 million on a single toilet makes sense. Why not spend hundreds of thousands for designs, permits, reviews, materials and labor? Why not stretch the process out for years in order to prolong the period at the taxpayer trough?

Wasting this much money on one public toilet is an example of how California’s governing class has broken the social contract and betrayed the people they’re supposed to serve. Government unions have an inherent conflict of interest, since success for them involves more members and more money for their members, and that success can be had even if the policies they implement are complete failures. In fact, failures for society are often huge victories for government unions. California’s ruined system of public education is a perfect example of this. The worse things get, the more money is demanded and received.

Haney should apologize to the City of San Francisco and give the money back to the state. But Haney is a cog in a machine he didn’t create. In the compromised world of San Francisco politics, the best we might hope for is a thorough accounting of why this toilet costs this much, and why it takes so long. That might generate public demands for a streamlined, less expensive process.

There ought to be a zero-cost alternative, but the one available to San Franciscans is fraught with its own controversy. As reported by NBC Bay Area, “according to the San Francisco department of public works it has a deal with the company JC Decaux to provide self cleaning public potties for free in exchange for advertising revenue made from the units.” These free public toilet kiosks are already sprinkled throughout the city, with more on the way.

Nothing is perfect, unfortunately. These free toilets in San Francisco have been targets of vandals, they have been frequently disabled, and turned into dens for drugs, sex, and even squatting. Moreover, the San Francisco bureaucrats who negotiated the deal with JC Decaux did not diligently solicit new bids when the contract with the city came up for renewal a few years ago. But these reality checks just point to even more dysfunction from the top down. The corrupt bureaucrats, the decriminalized crime, the unaccountable criminals.

San Francisco is a beautiful city. California is a beautiful state. But its leaders, state and local, are doing everything they can to ruin it.


Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness. Ring is the author of two books: “Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism” (2021) and “The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California” (2022).

A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Epoch Times.

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