People’s Park mural faces potential obstruction from 24/7 public restroom

Photo of "People's History" mural on Telegraph
Eran Kohen Behar/Staff
Two iconic Berkeley murals face potential obstruction as plans for the installation of a 24-hour toilet at People's Park move forward.

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A People’s History of Telegraph Avenue, or the People’s Park mural, and the Marvelous Miss Mars mural face potential obstruction by a 24/7 public restroom in the coming year, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

Staff at Berkeley’s Public Works Department are reviewing all input regarding the two potential locations for the 24-hour public toilet.

In 2016, Berkeley residents voted and passed Measure T1, according to the city of Berkeley website. Measure T1 allowed Berkeley to sell $100 million in bonds purposed with contracting infrastructure and facilities projects.

In 2017, with the first phase of Measure T1, Berkeley decided to pursue a Citywide Restroom Study. Then, in 2018, Berkeley spent $120,000 from Measure T1 to contract Hyphae Design Laboratory for the study.

“The Citywide Restroom Study identified neighborhoods where public locations should be located,” said public works director Liam Garland in an email.

According to the Citywide Restroom Study’s executive summary, Hyphae Design Laboratory included “stakeholder and community engagement” in its analysis, wherein it coordinated with homeless support organizations, focus groups with unhoused people, business stakeholders and other institutions including UC Berkeley.

A follow-up study set for completion in one to two years was intended to finalize the restroom location, Garland stated. The bathroom project on Telegraph Avenue was expedited, due to the eventual removal of the People’s Park 24-hour bathroom.

Berkeley’s Public Works Department is considering two locations along Telegraph Avenue for a 24-hour public bathroom, said City Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email.

Both potential bathroom locations would “obstruct” existing murals, according to a presentation made Oct. 4 at a Berkeley Public Works Department community meeting.

If located on Channing Way, Marvelous Miss Mars created by Forest Wolf Kell in 2019 would be “partially obstructed,” according to the presentation.

If located on Haste Street, the People’s Park mural, created by Osha Neumann, O’Brien Thiele, Daniel Galvez, Hannah Kransberg and others in 1976, would be “obstructed,” according to the presentation.

Neumann, the supervising attorney at East Bay Community Law Center, emphasized the historical importance of the People’s Park Mural.

Neumann said he was inspired to create the mural to monument the revolutionary events of the 1960s and the creation of People’s Park in 1969.

“You can look at the mural and you can follow the events,” Neumann said. “You would never be able to step back across the street and get a picture of that mural as it’s meant to be seen because right smack in front of it would be this toilet. It is profoundly disrespectful both to the art and history, and to the values that are embodied in the historical events that are depicted.”

Community feedback regarding the project was accepted through Oct. 12, Garland noted.

Robinson added that the feedback is important to the success of the public restroom.

“I would never make a distinction between which mural should be obstructed as opposed to the other,” Forest said. “I would think it would be unnecessary to obstruct any artwork and I think putting something like a Portland Loo there diminishes that significantly.”

By Nov. 1, Berkeley’s Public Works Department plans to publish its location proposal, according to Garland.

Following this, in January 2022, the Public Works Department will submit a report to Berkeley City Council, requesting approval on the restroom’s construction contract. If approved by council members, the restroom will be operational before the end of 2022.

“It should not have been set up as a conflict between the need to pee and poop and public art. That’s not a conflict that has to exist,” Neumann said. “We’re all in favor of public toilets, but we don’t have to have one or the other.”

Contact Jude Strzemp at [email protected].