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The Margin: San Francisco spending $1.7 million on a single public toilet: ‘The cost is insane’

Talk about flushing money down the toilet.  

San Francisco’s parks department is poised to spend $1.7 million to build a new public bathroom that won’t even open until 2025. 

And you thought your contractor cost a lot of time and money.

Residents in the Bay Area’s Noe Valley neighborhood have been requesting a public bathroom since the town square opened in 2016. And San Francisco at large has been grappling with a rising poop problem, as complaints to the city’s 311 hotline about human and animal feces on the streets have been steadily increasing since 2012. So the city was poised to celebrate receiving funding from the state budget on Wednesday to build the long-awaited public restroom.

But city assembly member Matt Haney canceled the press conference to celebrate funding the project after reading a San Francisco Chronicle column that called out the bathroom’s seven-figure pricetag, which asked, “What are they making it out of — gold?”  Haney told the Chronicle that the cost was “inexplicable,” and he planned to send a formal letter to the city’s Recreation and Park director demanding a full explanation for why a single bathroom stall would cost so much time and money.

“The cost is insane. The process is insane. The amount of time it takes is insane,” Haney said. “Explain it, and make changes.”

The local NBC affiliate also noted that San Francisco operates a number of free public restrooms at no cost to the city. That’s because the San Francisco Department of Public Works has reached a deal with advertising company JC Decaux to provide self-cleaning public bathrooms for free, in exchange for the advertising revenue made from the restroom units.

So the $1.7 million pricetag and the procedure to install this particular potty has raised plenty of questions. 

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department was not immediately available for comment. But a representative told Fox News Digital and the Chronicle in a joint statement that several factors were driving up the porcelain throne’s tab, including “onerous demands and unpredictable costs levied by PG&E” — the Pacific Gas and Electric Company — as well as construction costs spiking 20% to 30% over the past two years, plus hiring workers who are being paid a living wage with benefits. 

“It’s also important to note that public projects and their overall cost estimates don’t just reflect the price of erecting structures,”  the spokesperson added. “They include the cost of planning, drawing, permits, reviews, public outreach and construction management.”

And indeed, some readers noted on Twitter and Reddit that other U.S. cities have dropped a lot of cash to put up public bathrooms. The city of Atlanta spent $1.5 million to install five public toilet facilities, and to maintain them for two years.

San Diego spent roughly $5.8 million to demolish an existing comfort station and build a new one in the same location, complete with an accessible pathway. And in Staten Island, N.Y., a comfort station planned for Seaside Wildlife Nature Park that has been in the works since 2018 will have cost somewhere between $5 million and $10 million when it’s completed, which should be next month.

What’s more, when the San Francisco bathroom is completed in 2025, the final cost could actually be lower than the $1.7 million budgeted for it. So the remaining funds would be redistributed toward maintenance and upgrades, the parks department said.

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