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Here it is: San Francisco’s most famous toilet

Alastair Boone
In all its glory.

The new bathroom at Noe Valley Town Square is bright red, and contains a single metal toilet bowl and a changing table. It’s gender neutral, and will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the spring and summer — and close at 5:30 p.m. in the fall and winter.

In the end, it only cost $200,000, according to Recreation and Park Department officials. That was after a private company donated a prefabricated toilet, plus the cost of installation, which lowered the city’s project costs. But according to Supervisor Rafael Mandleman, more than a million-and-half dollars is not so unusual for a toilet in San Francisco.

“I think there are other bathrooms that are as expensive or more expensive.”

That’s because this project was relatively small — just one toilet. And the cost of building anything in San Francisco is exorbitant. It’s the most expensive in the world to build in, after all. And the process of building even one toilet has many stages: an architect has to draw up plans for the bathroom; there needs to be a community review process; and then the arts commission has to do a design review.

After that, it’s subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act. And once it’s approved, there are all the costs associated with hooking up the plumbing, and paying laborers to build the project.

Mandelman represents District 8, which includes Noe Valley.

“This wasn’t a one-off problem, this was a problem that is embedded in almost everything we do and almost everything we buy and probably every project we pursue, the costs are higher and we get less for our money and things take longer, and people are frustrated. This was a very tangible thing for people to focus on with that frustration.”

Alastair Boone

But that initial frustration didn’t put a damper on the excitement for some of the neighbors, who were enjoying the restroom during a quiet morning at Noe Valley Town Square on Tuesday.

San Francisco has about 200 public restrooms in parks and on city streets, but many have complained that they are exceedingly difficult to find.

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit newspaper, and a member of KALW's 2024 Audio Academy.