An initiative creating 24-hour public restrooms in the Telegraph Business Improvement District was discussed at Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting.
According to the council’s report, 65% of unhoused individuals have been denied access to a restroom in a private business. The report also mentioned that adding accessible public restrooms can lead to a boost in tourism, increased foot traffic and more support for small businesses.
District 7 Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who represents much of Telegraph Avenue, introduced the proposal.
“My official statement on this issue is that everyone poops,” Robinson said in an email. “Access to public restrooms available 24/7 is crucial for a livable, equitable city. This need is especially acute on Telegraph.”
The project has accrued $93,428 in outside funding, according to the report. The budget referral is asking the city to fund the remaining amount, including ongoing maintenance cost.
Stuart Baker, executive director at the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said his organization “absolutely” supports the plan.
“We feel with our unhoused populations, it is very inhumane not to have facilities for folks who find themselves unhoused to be able to use a restroom between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m. — because that’s when all the restrooms we have publicly accessible here are closed,” Baker said. “The development of People’s Park is happening regardless, so whether restrooms are there or not, I don’t think it impacts whether People’s Park is developed.”
Baker added that one of the possible locations for these public restrooms is on city property adjacent to the Telegraph Channing Garage.
While the measure received the support of the ASUC External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar and District 4 Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison, it has also faced criticism from some community members.
Arthur Fonseca, a treasurer for the People’s Park Committee, said while he is not opposed to public restrooms, he believes the city should prioritize maintaining the public restrooms in People’s Park.
Homeless activist Mike Lee called the measure for public restrooms a “political maneuver.” Lee added that the top priority to help the homeless community should be focused on housing, ensuring dignity and respect for these individuals — and then public restrooms.
Lee, however, said he still believes public restrooms provide public health benefits.
Baker said he does not necessarily think of this proposal as a business decision, but thinks it will inevitably help businesses avoid dealing with the outcomes of a lack of public restrooms.
“Unfortunately, folks who don’t have access to restrooms at night often need to use doorways … we hope to have restrooms that are available for everyone,” Baker said.