[Hpn] SF Media Pissing Match pt 2 -- City workers to begin inspecting pay toilets in S.F.

coh coh@sfo.com
Wed, 11 Jul 2001 10:53:36 -0700

City workers to begin inspecting pay toilets in S.F.

Ilene Lelchuk, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle


San Francisco -- San Francisco's Department of Public Works will begin
weekly inspections of the city's sleek computerized street toilets to check
reports of vandalism, breakdowns, camping and closures, the manager of the
program said yesterday.

"I think we should do that and see what's going on," said Jake Szeto, the
city's project manager who oversees the French-made self-cleaning commodes
for the DPW. 

The Chronicle reported yesterday that roughly a quarter of the 23 pay
toilets installed and maintained by the JCDecaux Co. have become major
problems for maintenance crews, police and tourists who try to use them.

Company records and a recent sampling of the toilets revealed problems with
vandalism, homeless people sleeping inside and prostitutes and drug addicts
using the roomy bathrooms.

Szeto said the difficulties were expected six years ago when JCDecaux
installed the first green, oval facilities. The company's contract with San
Francisco promises that maintenance workers will check the toilets daily and
file monthly reports with the city.

But Szeto said he was surprised to hear that the company began closing its
most problematic bathrooms at night and that some commodes toured by The
Chronicle were not working.

"Maybe they fix them and then they still go out of order every day," Szeto
said. "As far as the department is concerned, we need to step up the
inspections at least for a couple of months."

He stressed, however, that most of the misused and abused toilets are on
blocks where street people congregate. This spring, JCDecaux officials said
they began closing the worst toilets -- at Civic Center, Larkin at O'Farrell
and Mission at Sixth -- at night because of a Police Department request. The
company's contract with the city requires that the toilets remain open 24
hours a day. 

Company general manager Stephen Whitlock has said the toilets will remain
locked nightly until the environment in those neighborhoods changes.

"The streets evolve on a daily basis," Whitlock said.

Whitlock could not be reached yesterday to comment on the city's call for
additional inspections.


JCDecaux gave the 84-square-foot rest rooms, costing about $150,000 each, to
the city in 1995 in exchange for the right to sell advertising space on 90
matching kiosks. 

For 25 cents or a free token that San Francisco distributes to the homeless,

the door slides open and shut automatically, the toilet seat retracts into
the wall where it is washed and dried, and the sink and soap dispenser have
motion sensors that dispense automatically when hands appear under them.

The time limit is 20 minutes -- a lengthy period requested at the start by
the disabled community.

San Francisco was the first city in the United States to use the high-tech
toilets. It now has 23, with two more under construction. Palo Alto and San
Jose followed with a handful of toilets, and a Los Angeles City Council
committee is scheduled today to consider inviting JCDecaux to install 150
toilets -- possibly the largest such contract in the world.


In San Francisco, the best-kept toilets are generally in tourist areas such
as Union Street. Still, records show that JCDecaux technicians shoo sleeping
homeless people out of toilets many mornings at Fisherman's Wharf and the
cable car turntable on Market Street at Powell.

It doesn't look like San Francisco will add many more toilets. Although the
city contract allows JCDecaux to install as many as 50, the city must pick
the locations no later than next July. Szeto said that's enough time for
only two or three more toilets.

Activists in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood have been battling over the
pros and cons of a new commode since 1995. Last year, the Board of
Supervisors blocked a toilet there based on concerns it would draw illegal
activity. But potty advocates are trying again with the new board.

"This is at Haight and Cole streets. We are talking about a street that on a
good weekend has 30,000 to 35,000 people through it," said Calvin Welch of
the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council. "We have a serious problem of no
public toilets anywhere in the vicinity. Most of the residents are more
concerned about people relieving themselves on their doorsteps."

E-mail Ilene Lelchuk at ilelchuk@sfchronicle.com.

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A - 1

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