San Francisco Celebrates Its New Public Toilet

San Francisco Celebrates Its New Public Toilet

San Francisco closed the lid Sunday on the saga of a $1.7 million public restroom. To commemorate the commode’s installation, residents celebrated at a “potty party” they called the Toilet Bowl.

Lookie-loos lined up in the Noe Valley Town Square to give the loo a whirl. A band played songs including “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys. (“This is a song about a john!” the band leader explained.) Children sipped lemonade and ate chocolate cupcakes while they tossed bean bags into plastic training potties on the ground.

San Francisco may have been a laughingstock over the news that it planned to spend $1.7 million to construct a single public restroom with a sink and toilet, getting skewered by late-night comedians and inspiring the “it” costume at Halloween parties.

But on Sunday, the city got the last laugh.

“We wanted to, you know, really roll with it,” said Zach D’Angelo, dressed as a giant roll of toilet paper with a red plunger as his hat. D’Angelo, the host of Tuesday night trivia at a pub down the street, served as the Toilet Bowl’s emcee — or, as he put it, the Grand Poobah.

“I am flush with excitement!” he exclaimed before he started telling toilet jokes that he said he had gotten from his 7-year-old nephew.

The mood wasn’t quite so lighthearted in October 2022 when city officials announced a news conference in the Noe Valley Town Square to celebrate securing $1.7 million in state funds to build the 150-square-foot restroom — enough money to buy a whole single-family house in the city.

The square was built in 2016 with outdoor seating, a playground and plumbing for a public toilet, but no actual toilet, because money for the project had fallen short.

Just as puzzling as the price tag was the timeline. The city said it would take two to three years to install the restroom, even after it secured the state funds.

Neighbors and a local journalist (well, me) began to question the details of the project. City officials explained the toilet would have to be approved by numerous city commissions. It would also be subject to environmental review. All that, plus the high cost of construction in the city, made the project expensive and time-consuming.

Politicians began distancing themselves from the bathroom brouhaha. Gov. Gavin Newsom took back the state money.

Then, Chad Kaufman, president of the Public Restroom Company, offered to donate a modular toilet instead. He and Vaughan Buckley, the chief executive of Volumetric Building Companies, paid for architecture and engineering work to get the site ready. They also paid for a truck to carry the modular toilet to the square, a crane to lift it into place and union labor to install it.

The tab for the city dropped to $200,000, and Mayor London Breed announced legislation that she said would help bring down the cost of other public projects. It would let city departments team up to get group discounts on goods and services for small jobs. The state gave the $1.7 million back to San Francisco again, and the city says it will be used to build more toilets.

In the end, the new red restroom in the Noe Valley Town Square was worthy of celebration. On Sunday, a woman doled out toilet trivia. Local librarians handed out free copies of children’s books entitled “Everyone Poops” and “Time to Use the Potty.” There was a toilet-themed costume contest with whoopee cushions as prizes.

Three San Francisco politicians — Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, State Senator Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Matt Haney — addressed the crowd. Haney posed for a photo in front of the bathroom.

“It’s not gold-plated, but it’s worth its weight in gold,” he said with a laugh.

Debra Niemann, director of the Noe Valley Association, a neighborhood improvement group, said she didn’t think the toilet travails had done much to make city projects, including public restrooms, any cheaper to build.

“But at least we got one,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It’s clean. It’s simple. It’s everything you could want in a public toilet.”

Heather Knight is the San Francisco bureau chief of The New York Times.

Sacramento is one of the Top 50 U.S. cities on Money’s list of the best places to live in 2024, The Sacramento Bee reports. The list cited the city’s “vibrant cultural scene” and specifically mentioned Crocker Art Museum, B Street Theater and the Farm-to-Fork Festival.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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