Governor’s Office Wades Into Noe Valley Toilet Controversy, Says Funds Will Be Withheld

Once again, Gavin Newsom’s administration is admonishing San Francisco and its slow-moving, needlessly costly bureaucracy, and holding funds hostage for a planned public toilet in Noe Valley until the city can figure out how to make it less stupidly expensive.

Last week we learned of the planned public toilet in Noe Valley’s town square that Assemblymember Matt Haney had secured funds for to the tune of $1.7 million. Why $1.7 million, you ask? Well, Chronicle columnist Heather Knight was on the case, and true to form, not only did Rec & Parks quote that price because of the necessary “planning, drawing, permits, reviews, and public outreach” to construct a 150-square-foot public can, but they said it wouldn’t be finished until 2025.

Now, as Knight informs us, the governor’s office is making an example of San Francisco once again, and using this public toilet price tag as a symbol of everything currently wrong with our city government.

“A single, small bathroom should not cost $1.7 million,” says Erin Mellon, Newsom’s communications director, in a statement to the Chronicle. “The state will hold funding until San Francisco delivers a plan to use this public money more efficiently. If they cannot, we will go back to the legislature to revoke this appropriation.”

It’s true that San Francisco doesn’t make anything easy when it comes to construction, and perhaps the state is right to push back on such an exorbitant cost for what should be a very quick and simple project that benefits a neighborhood, and that the neighborhood has already said it wants.

But here we have another tedious string of headlines that reminds us of the provincial nature of our city government’s squabbles — let’s talk for another six months about this million-dollar toilet! — not unlike the many, many stories we’ve already had about the city’s epic quest to decide on a new trash can.

Also, as Knight notes, this kerfuffle is coming months after the governor’s office similarly admonished San Francisco with an unprecedented audit of the city’s planning process for housing. Dubbed “housing policy and practice review,” the state Department of Housing and Community Development announced in August that it would be undertaking this review because SF can’t seem to get out of its own way when it comes to building housing.

“According to San Francisco’s self-reported data, it has the longest timelines in the state for advancing housing projects to construction, among the highest housing and construction costs, and the [Housing Accountability Unit] has received more complaints about San Francisco than any other local jurisdiction in the state,” the department said in its announcement about the review. They also added that Seattle approves new housing at a rate three times faster than San Francisco.

Right, so, it takes years to get a housing development through all the necessary design and planning and Board of Supervisors reviews, and it similarly takes two to three years and $1.7 million to design, plan, hem and haw, and construct a public toilet . Any questions?

Photo: Tom Milkovic

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