I spent Saturday afternoon walking around downtown Palo Alto looking for a public restroom.
Not that I was in immediate need of one, but the City Council last Monday passed an ordinance that said anyone found peeing in public would be guilty of a crime.
The problem, said Police Chief Lynne Johnson, is not so much with the homeless downtown but rather those people who spend their evenings drinking and partying away, only to find they need to go after the bars close at night.
So many have relieved themselves on sidewalks and stairways around town.
The new ordinance approved by an 8-0 vote makes it a crime, punishable as either an infraction or a misdemeanor, to urinate or defecate in public.
Now I totally sympathize with wanting to restrict people from peeing in public places.
But the problem in downtown Palo Alto is that not only do we have almost no public bathrooms but we also don't have any street signs directing people to where the three public restrooms are located.
So I thought it would be helpful if I could help find what we have, so people know where to go.
Hence my walk. There is one fancy French toilet at Hamilton and Waverley that costs 50 cents a use (quarters only, please). We once had two of these, but the one at Lytton recently was moved to the train station/bus depot because there are no bathrooms there either.
Someone told me there were some bathrooms at the two new city parking garages on High and Bryant streets So Saturday I went looking for them.
The High Street garage indeed had one unisex bathroom in a ground floor corner. I opened the door and found water constantly flushing out of the john.
At the Bryant Street garage, there was one unisex bathroom. It worked. Five floors of parking, one john. No big signs with arrows pointing to a 'public restroom' at either garage. You just have to prowl around the corners to find them.
Both garages had a map showing all the colored parking zones in the downtown, as well as the public restrooms. The single restroom in each of the garages, however, was not on the map. There were the male-female bathroom logos at City Hall, but I went over there and those doors were locked that afternnon, as they are evenings and weekends. So forget about downtown revelers using those bathrooms.
The sign also listed bathrooms at the downtown library, but that building is closed nights and weekends too.
So here we are, about to make criminals of people who pee in public. I think that would be fine, but it's not fine if the city doesn't provide any public facilities, or tell people where to go. What does the council expect people in need to do? This is not a solution to a problem; it's putting the cart before the horse.