On Tuesday, April 4, I attended the Berkeley City Council special work session, which had as agenda item 2 a report from Scott Ferris, Parks and Waterfront boss, on capital expenditures for the parks. Ferris had submitted his testimony in writing a week before, and it was posted on the city website. In that report, Ferris claimed that new restrooms in Cesar Chavez and seven other large parks would cost $800,000 for each restroom. He also estimated that replacement or renovation of existing restrooms at nine other parks would cost $350 – $450K for each unit. The total for 17 parks, in his view, would be just shy of $10 million. Here is that section from Ferris’ written testimony:
Shortly after Ferris advanced these numbers, I posted a response on Nextdoor.com, the neighborhood social network. See my post on that item. I pointed out that nearby communities had installed new park bathrooms with flush toilets, urinals, and sinks for handwashing for $52,000 in one case and $61,000 in another, a small fraction of the $800,000 price tag that Ferris proposed. I sent a similar message to the members of the City Council.
At the April 4 session, Ferris studiously avoided mentioning the price tag of any restrooms and notably failed to mention the $600,000 windsurfer bathroom that is still on Ferris’ hidden agenda. More on that another time. When Ferris had finished, several council members had comments and questions about other topics. Then Council member Susan Wengraf, a long-serving member from a relatively conservative Berkeley hills district, asked Ferris pointblank how he could explain the high price of park restrooms. Ferris stumbled and rambled, apparently unprepared, about different conditions in different places, saying nothing.
Shortly after this exchange, the public comment period opened. I had one minute to speak, in which I briefly mentioned the new park restrooms I’ve visited in Lathrop and Pacifica, and distributed copies of the catalog of Greenflush Technologies, the vendor who had built those restrooms. I made sure that there were enough copies for each council member, for the City Manager, and for Mr. Ferris. When I finished, to my surprise, there was warm applause from the floor, and a lot of people in the full room gave me smiles and nods as I resumed my seat. Here is the video of Wengraf’s question, Ferris’ response, and my comment.
What was most scary about Ferris’ response was not his obvious lack of preparation — I’ve several times seen Ferris arrive late at commission meetings and ramble aimlessly, as if inebriated — but his remark that they were looking at campground bathrooms. Campground bathrooms have toilet holes big enough to drop babies in, and signs warning that garbage inside is “extremely difficult to remove.” They are as stinky or more so than porta-potties, and they don’t have sinks for handwashing. Rangers, who have to clean them, hate them with a passion. They cost almost as much as the new technology restrooms I visited that have flush toilets, sinks for handwashing, and are odor free and easy to clean. I’m hoping that other members of the Parks staff, especially the women, and men with children, will derail Ferris from his drift to the bottom. Clean, modern, sanitary, odor-free park restrooms are readily available at any site in Berkeley at prices that won’t make a dent in the Parks budget.
Ferris was clearly clueless about new park restroom technology. The flush-vault toilets installed in Lathrop, in Pacifica, and other locations nationwide do not require sewer hookups. They can use sewer hookups if they exist, but it’s not necessary. Water connections are also optional. They can include tanks for sink water or use collected rainwater. Electric hookups are unnecessary, as the units operate on solar power with a single panel on the roof. There’s detailed info about how this technology works on the vendor website.
P.S. This was my second appearance on the issue of park bathrooms before City Council. I previously showed up on March 24, 2015, and presented the council with 500 signature on a better bathrooms petition.