Palo Alto, CA votes to install public pay-tiolets downtown FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 9 May 1998 12:18:49 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  May 5, 1998  San Francisco Chronicle - Page A16


     Carolyne Zinko, Chronicle Staff Writer

       One of the crueler signs in civilization reads: ``Bathrooms for
Customer Use ONLY.''

       But Palo Alto may soon introduce cutting-edge technology toilets for
its downtown visitors who have no place to go.

       The City Council unanimously voted last night to begin negotiations
with JCDecaux, the maker of French self-cleaning commodes, for installation
of two public toilets downtown.

       A familiar sight in Europe, the kiosk-like loos are growing in
popularity in the Bay Area. San Francisco has 20, San Jose has signed up
for seven, and Berkeley is considering installing some on bustling
Telegraph Avenue.

       In Palo Alto, the toilets are intended to serve the needs of
increasing numbers of visitors to the chic downtown, as well as those of
the homeless.

       At a cost of $61,500 each for installation and annual maintenance,
the lavatories are not cheap.

       But they are coin-operated, self-cleaning and designed to be
accessible to the disabled. They're also open 24 hours a day.

       One is to be installed in Lytton Plaza, at University Avenue and
Emerson Street. The other would be placed in a parking lot across from the
post office at Waverly Street and Hamilton Avenue -- not far from a food
closet popular with the homeless.

       The need for public toilets was brought to the council's attention a
decade ago, when the city created Johnson Park in a neighborhood just a few
blocks north of downtown.

       Its playground equipment made it popular with children, but to the
chagrin of some parents, the park -- like many others around town -- had no

       When adults playing basketball at the park began relieving
themselves in the stairwells and bushes of a condominium complex across the
street, homeowner Joe Baldwin asked the council to find a solution.

       The council voted to install bathrooms on a trial basis, then
rescinded its decision when other nearby residents complained that
bathrooms might attract drug dealers and prostitutes, Baldwin said.

       Although it didn't solve the problem in the park, the discussion did
spur the council in 1996 to order a study of the need for public bathrooms
elsewhere -- on and around University Avenue.

       Concurrently, the city has been working on a face-lift for
University Avenue to modernize its outdated benches and street lights. At
public workshops on the topic, citizens have asked that public toilets be
included in the redesign, according to a staff report prepared for last
night's meeting.

       ``You can't repeal the laws of nature,'' said Baldwin.

       And with Palo Alto's emergence as a destination city with coffee
houses, art theaters and designer restaurants, there are more people
hearing the call of nature downtown than ever before.

       During last night's council discussion, Councilman Joe Huber
inquired when the public could expect the ``first flush'' from one of the
new public toilets. City Manager June Fleming said that could happen by
early 1999.


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