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Experts offer cheap solutions to the bathroom fiasco. Will the bureaucracy be in the way?

After officials expressed outrage the $1.7 million prize and an extended timeline for a public restroom in San Francisco, construction experts across the country have dived into the debate about how the city can provide a cheaper, faster alternative.

Now, two men who run prefab construction companies plan to lift the lid on Wednesday about a potential solution to San Francisco’s overpriced toilet jobs: a modular bathroom they say they’ll give away for free instead of the town of Noe Valley that can be installed using local union labor.

The only catch is that San Francisco officials have to agree to a streamlined approvals process, given that the city’s plan to install a $1.7 million homemade bathroom should take a shine. two to three years to enable and build. After this column detailed the startling cost of just one toilet in 150 square feet of space, Governor Gavin Newsom froze state funds earmarked for the project and demanded a cheaper solution.

Chad Kaufman, President of Public restroom companyand Vaughan Buckley, CEO of Volumetric construction companies, are in San Francisco for a construction conference this week at the Moscone Center. Wednesday morning they will detail their bathroom offering at the conference, just the latest twist in the story of a small toilet that exploded around the world.

Trevor Noah talked about it on “The Daily Show”, international newspapers picked up the toilet story and many enterprising San Franciscans disguised as a $1.7 million toilet for Halloween – because nothing is scarier than city bureaucrats wasting time and taxpayers’ money.

“All my friends sent me the Chronicle story,” Kaufman told me on Tuesday. “My email blew up in two days.”

So he had a clever idea. He has a modular bathroom — complete with a toilet in a lockable stall and a small outdoor area with a sink — which he exhibited in the spring at the California Park and Recreation Society Conference and Expo in Sacramento. He sells this model for $135,000, but will donate the showroom bathroom to the Noe Valley town square for free, and Buckley will provide free architectural and engineering support to prepare the site. The city could hire local workers to install it.

The modular bathroom offered free of charge in San Francisco for the Noe Valley Town Square.

Courtesy of Public Restroom Company

“I want to donate a toilet to help the people of Noe Valley accomplish this as soon as possible,” Kaufman said, nodding at the city’s estimate that his exorbitant toilet wouldn’t be ready for use. used before 2025. “Our installation would take three days.”

Tamara Aparton, spokeswoman for the city’s recreation and parks department, confirmed that Buckley emailed the department Tuesday morning with the offer. She said the department has responded and hopes to meet with the men this week.

“We are happy to explore this offer,” she told me, noting that a verification and authorization process would still be required.

Kaufman sold seven similar modular bathrooms to the city of Los Angeles for about the same price as the $1.7 million Noe Valley toilet, and also sold prefabricated toilets to cities in northern California, including Tracy, San Bruno, East Palo Alto and Redwood City. .

It sounds like a win-win situation, but given that San Francisco is full of red tape, nothing is ever easy. The city may have to apply for a special waiver to accept the free bathroom because the states in which the two companies are headquartered – Nevada and Pennsylvania – are among on the 30th, the city declared a ban on travel and business because of their positions on abortion rights, voting rights or LGBTQ rights. The city is considering changing these rules because it increases prices and does not appear to affect other states’ laws.

Meanwhile, John Bauters, the mayor of Emeryville says he too has a much cheaper toilet solution that works great: Portland toiletsa prefab bathroom designed by the city of Portland, Oregon and now purchased by dozens of cities across the country, including Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Monterey, San Diego, Austin, Miami and Cinncinati.

Yes, surprisingly, other cities have figured out the dresser riddle.

“It goes back to elementary school. There’s a book called “Everybody poops,” Bauters pointed out. “Do you want them pooping on your sidewalk or do you want them pooping in an establishment?” It’s not rocket science.

Conveniently, San Francisco, notoriously short of public restrooms, hasn’t flushed Oregon down its contract sewers like it has those other 30 states and could conceivably buy Portland Loos.

Bauters, who is revered by Bay Area city planners who want more housing, more bike lanes, more car-free streets and more common sense, said his city spent $99,000 to buy a Portland Loo for the Joseph Emery skatepark and another $41,000 for the install.

Emeryville Mayor John Bauters says he has a much cheaper toilet solution that works well: the Portland Loo, a prefab bathroom designed by the city of Portland, Oregon and now purchased by dozens of cities.  Bauters is shown in an Oct. 1, 2019, file photo.

John Bauters, the mayor of Emeryville says he has a much cheaper toilet solution that works well:
Portland toilets, a prefab bathroom designed by the city of Portland, Oregon and now purchased by dozens of cities. Bauters is shown in an Oct. 1, 2019, file photo.

Paul Chinn, Staff / The Chronicle

He praised its stainless steel surface which resists graffiti and vandalism and is easy to clean with a connected hose. Its lower part has vents, making it easy to see how many people are inside and whether they are using the toilet appropriately, he added. Bauters said it’s been used a lot and the city hasn’t received any complaints about it.

Another Portland Loo will be installed in a new 10-acre Emeryville neighborhood that will include 500 housing units, a park, dog park, playground and organic garden, Bauters said, noting that the construction schedule three years of development relates to the identical to the Noe Valley toilets.

“You’ll have one bathroom, and we’ll have a 10-acre neighborhood,” Bauters said. “San Francisco can be a world-class city, but sometimes it has to go out of its way.”

He said investigating San Francisco’s budget allocation for the now-famous Noe Valley bathroom gave him some big questions, including his $300,000 architectural fee to design a small bathroom, which could be enough to pay for two Portland Loos.

I asked a handful of professional architects and engineers to review the city’s budget allocations for toilets in Noe Valley Town Square, as well as similar small bathrooms built by Rec and Park, one at Alamo Square and another in McLaren Park. All three projects had roughly the same construction costs, and no one I asked thought those cost estimates made sense.

Justin Watkins, who has worked as an assistant superintendent and project engineer on construction projects in San Francisco in the past, said the fact that the outages were so similar was a red flag.

“That means it’s very simple municipal budgeting, and if something has ever been approved at that price, it’s likely to be approved again,” said Watkins, who now works for 1build. , which makes software to help estimate construction costs.

He said the budgets appeared to include “a ton of markups,” including the Noe Valley toilet station of $175,000 for project management by the recreation and parks department and $150,000 for management of project by the Ministry of Public Works.

“Now you have two city officials overseeing the same restroom for what is effectively their annual salary,” he said. “A manager can manage several projects. It’s pretty useless.

Aparton, the spokesperson for Rec and Park, said the city provides a team consisting of an architect, landscape architect, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, structural engineer and of a geotechnical engineer – and that none of their salaries or benefits come from the general fund. Instead, they are paid by individual projects.

Assemblyman Matt Haney, who secured the $1.7 million in public funds for the restroom before Newsom put it on hold to see if the city can come up with a cheaper plan, said he wanted an audit of the city’s contracting processes because this little toilet provided a window into how broken they are.

He said the city needs to stop rejecting proven answers – like the Portland Loo or Big Belly Bins – in order to to create your own tailor-made answers which often take far too much time and money.

“Let’s hope some shitty bathroom can save San Francisco by convincing them to get off the potty and get to work,” he said with a laugh.

Leslie Crawford, co-founder of Town Square, said the international attention has come as a shock to little Noe Valley, but she is confident the toilet story will have a happy ending.

“We could, from all this, come up with something better, cheaper, faster and reasonable!” she says.

In San Francisco? Now that would be quite the end of the twist.

Heather Knight is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @hknightsf

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