Editorial: “Pay to Pee” Must End

Since the park opened, Cesar Chavez Park users have had to put up with plastic porta-potties.  These temporary outhouses may be a necessary evil at special events such as races, concerts, and festivals, but park users have had nothing else for more than 20 years.  They are nasty and unsanitary, they are forbidding to women and children, they make the City look bad, and they disrespect the name of Cesar Chavez.  So why are they still there?

If you ask City park authorities the reason for neglecting the creature comforts of Cesar Chavez Park users, the answer is always money.  “Bathrooms are expensive,” goes the refrain.  And so they are.  But if you look closer, the money is there.  Plenty of it.  Boatloads of it.  They’re just not spending it on people who use the park.

Item:  This summer, the City plans to begin construction on a permanent public bathroom in the South Basin area of the Marina.   It will have flush toilets and sinks to wash your hands.  It will cost six hundred thousand dollars.

For that money you can buy a four-bedroom house with a yard, even in Berkeley.

The City  proposes to put the new facility next to the Cal Adventures building.  Cal Adventures is the “Outdoor Experiential Education Program at UC Berkeley.”  That means, basically, windsurfers.  The City is also going to pave over the parking lots in that area for another half million.

Of course, windsurfers should have decent bathrooms. Everyone should.  But why is the Berkeley Marina responsible for upgrading the facilities for a UC Berkeley program?  Shouldn’t the UC Recreational Sports Department carry some of the load here?

The proposed $600,000 windsurfer bathroom would be the fifth permanent bathroom on the south side of the Marina.  There’s already an excellent public restroom in Shorebird Park (No. 1 on the map below).  And there’s another public bathroom next to the Marina office (No. 2 on the map).  Both are an easy walk from the windsurfer dock.  And there’s two other permanent bathrooms on the south side reserved for yacht basin berth renters.

So don’t talk to us park users about money.  There is money.  There’s City money and there’s grant money from state agencies.  But if you ask why the money is all going for boat owners — even owners of nothing grander than a windsurfer rig — and not for people who like to walk in the park, the answer you get is again, money.  The boat owners pay to rent berths.  The Cal Adventures group pays rent.  Park visitors pay nothing.

There you have it.  You thought that “You Have to Pay to Pee” was just a song from Urinetown, the Broadway musical.  You believed that public parks served the public.  You hate the idea of putting a fence around a park and charging admission to fund park services.  Yet that’s the principle that governs the Berkeley Marina budget.  Boaters pay, boaters get $600,000 bathrooms.  Park visitors don’t pay, parks get porta-potties.

The need for permanent bathrooms in Cesar Chavez Park isn’t a novel idea.  Permanent restrooms in the park are part of the Marina Master Plan adopted in 2003.  The Master Plan, as the name implies, was supposed to be binding on Parks management.  But as far as anyone concerned is aware, nothing whatsoever has been done in the past twelve years to move toward this goal.  No Parks staff recommendations to City Council.  No motions in City Council.  No grant applications to state agencies.  Nothing.

The Marina, which includes Cesar Chavez Park,  occupies a special place in the City’s Parks and Waterfront administration.  It has its own budget, its own office, and its own staff.  This budget is absolutely dominated by the yacht harbor and its associated costs and revenues.  The Marina office itself is an icon of boater’s bias:  it’s suspended on water in the yacht basin, it’s decorated with antique boat gadgetry, and it’s festooned with nautical charts, sailing magazines, and boating vendor handouts.  There’s nothing in the Marina office that turns the mind toward the pleasures of dry land with grass, trees, and walkways.

As a matter of equity, the $600,000 dedicated to building a new bathroom for the windsurfers this summer ought to be moved northward and used to build bathrooms for Cesar Chavez Park users.  There are a great many more park visitors than windsurfers.  Of course, contracts have been signed, and so on.  But contracts can be amended.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It’s high time that the City have a critical look at the long-festering boater’s bias in the Marina parks administration.  People who enjoy recreation on dry land matter equally with people who take their pleasures on water.  The perverse principle that visitors need to pay in order to have decent bathrooms, enshrined in the Marina management credo, has no place in this city’s parks and recreation philosophy.

But if boater’s privilege is a sacred cow, then we need to give thought to placing Cesar Chavez Park into the hands of more attentive stewards.  Maybe the East Bay Regional Parks District would do a better job.  Or maybe Cesar Chavez should become a California State Park, as it was planned to be originally.  The City appears to be insensitive to the basic needs of the human beings who walk the land in Cesar Chavez, the City’s biggest park.  Cesar Chavez has the most beautiful views of any park in the city.  The plastic porta-potties are a filthy blot on that landscape.  It’s time to clean it up.

Marina bathroom map1


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