Town Square

In search of a restroom

Original post made by diana diamond on Jul 16, 2006

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.


Posted by it's a state law, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 17, 2006 at 9:21 am

i find it funny that P.A had to pass a no urination in public law, since it's a California state law

Public urination fits the definition of a public nuisance, described in state law as an act that is injurious to health, indecent or offensive to the senses and that interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.

Posted by Diamond Dog, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 17, 2006 at 10:30 pm

How many times will this woman write about 50 cents being too much for a public toilet?

Now I see why Diamond has a history of opposing school parcel taxes.
She clearly needs to save her money for things more important than public education

Posted by Terri Smith, a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2006 at 3:44 am

Many cities are beginning to work to make their downtowns a more walkable livable place to visit. Lack of clean safe public restrooms is a definite 'turn off' for many people.

Anyone interested should look at the easy to read report Portland State Univ recently published titled: "Going Public: Strategies for Meeting Public Restroom Need in Portland's Central City" A PDF of it is available at
Web Link

Posted by Parent, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2006 at 9:57 am

Does this mean when we take our kids to the neighborhood parks -- which mostly have no facilities -- we can't use our portable potties in public? (Because realistically, a small child who has to pee urgently cannot make even the two block walk home.) Or does it just mean the occasional child's emergency is a crime if we try to save the clothing by finding an out-ot-the-way tree? I've certainly witnessed (and sympathize with) this "criminal activity" at our bathroomless parks. Is it not a crime if a child has an accident in their clothing -- if so, then what about adults?

Does this make us parents criminals if we are not able to train our small children to give us 15 minutes warning before they urgently have to pee?

Posted by Robert, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 18, 2006 at 10:25 am

Yes, the parents should be considered criminals and the City COuncil needs to make sure that the police crack down on these people.
It is good to see that the City Council is addressing the important, pressing issues facing our city, as opposed to wasting their time on dealing with our dwindling tax base as retailers move to neighboring cities

Posted by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger
on Jul 18, 2006 at 11:25 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Dear Green Acres parent,

At last week's council meeting, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said police would not go after children in parks, and probably would leave the golfers at the Palo Alto Golf Course alone, should they need to go and do so.

She said the police would concentrate on the downtown.

But the ordinance adopted does apply to the entire city, so the discretion as to when to apply it is up to the police department and individual police officers.


Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2006 at 10:41 pm

We are not angels. Any area soliciting the public had better attend to the needs of that public. I would have no problem with bringing back vagrancy law, since the sidewalks and streets are not unrestricted use public land, but land dedicated to the public use of traffic and shoppers by the original subdividers.

Posted by Joe Bryant, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2006 at 5:54 pm

Perhaps Palo Alto should invest in mobile toilets that patrol the streets looking for people who need to pee. With so many needy people in the city, this one amenity surely deserves support

Posted by Betty Schneider, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 21, 2006 at 10:28 pm

At long last someone speaks out about this disgrace that Palo Alto downtown really has no restrooms. Go, Diana, go! You've got plenty of support for this one!

Posted by jo, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2006 at 2:51 am

What's with these people all worked up about public toilets? Do what your parents told you and go before you leave the house. Somehow in thirty years of living in Palo Alto, I never felt the need to pee in public.

Posted by Bob Brown, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 23, 2006 at 6:11 pm

Why is it so tough to just go into a store or restaurant and use their facilites? Seems like a topic that has created a ton of attention for something that is just common sense. Who needs a sign for a public john, when the person needing to go to the bathroom should just pee before leaving their house, shop or restaurant.

Boring Diana.

Posted by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger
on Jul 24, 2006 at 8:31 am

diana diamond is a registered user.

For those of you who suggest that one should use the restroom before leaving home, that assumes that one's home is nearby. But what do visitors from other communities do, who may live a half hour away and need to go by the time they arrive in Palo Alto? We cannot presume that everyone downtown lives in Palo Alto.

As for using restaurants, not all restaurants tolerate people walking in to use their restroom if they are not customers. If someone looks a bit scruffy, they are turned away at the door, and are told the restrooms are for customers only.

So to me the solution is we need to provide more public restrooms downtown. PortaPotties would be a good temporary solution.

Posted by Diamond Dog, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2006 at 12:44 pm

Web Link

Posted by Bob Brown, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 26, 2006 at 3:56 pm


That beg the question "How should we use the city's money?" How does Palo Alto rate against other cities our size? Do we have as many? What have other cities done to deal with the issue? Is it Palo Alto's fault or is this another situation where we hold the city accountable for something that most other city's don't have themselves? You may need to actually research this before opening up the can of worms. While the city is in the middle of an energy crisis and burglary wave, we are more focused on more john's downtown? Huh?

Posted by Carolyn, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2006 at 6:51 pm

Diana has researched this topic in terms of letting the public know where restrooms are available in town. This might seem trivial,unless you know what it's like to stay home rather than risk having an accident in public. This is a problem for many people, whose numbers will increase as we boomers age, although age is not the only cause.

Where shopping is the desired activity, with storekeepers and towns depending on revenues, the shopper's comfort is an obvious priority.

It seems that whenever I've been irritated by someone else's problem, I only understood what they went through by eventually developing the problem myself. So be careful, or we'll have to pay for even more unsightly wastes of time and money!

Posted by Citizen, a resident of Atherton
on Jul 31, 2006 at 1:57 am

What about children who are not peeing on an out of the way tree in the park? I have several times witnessed parents letting there kids pee in other more public places. A year ago I was parking in the garage under city hall(!) and I witnessed a mother telling her young daughter to squat by the car. Several weeks ago I saw a woman on hamilton help her son urinate into a planter/onto the side of a building. Will the police put a stop to this?

Posted by Betty Schneider, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 1, 2006 at 4:25 pm

A topic discussion long overdue. Thank you for bringing it up. You do seem to have concerns that many of us also feel, but you are actually shing a light on them and discussing them. Bravo!

Posted by Elaine, a resident of University South
on Aug 9, 2006 at 6:13 pm

I recall that the city asked the developer of 800 High Street to add a public restroom on the Homer Ave. open corner, as a public benefit for all the exceptions and variances they were given. Is there a rest room there?

Posted by Maureen, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2006 at 4:38 pm

I let my daughter pee,why not? If I wouldn´t,she would wet herself AND the Street!!!

Posted by Citizen, a resident of Atherton
on Oct 18, 2006 at 1:28 am

Maureen, you let her pee in our streets? Shame on you. Better your daughter wet herself than make a public nuisance. If she can not hold her bladder she should be in diapers!

Posted by shelly layne, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2008 at 4:01 am

with all of you nice clean people living there im suprized to find any of you clones actually need to pee pee / caca, maybe you can get some legal mexicans to clean up after you, that would be nice!

Posted by Jellybean, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2008 at 1:30 am

How is it that women can hold their pee but men and children can't? Doesn't this have more to do with planning ahead? My kids, both sexes, were once little and I never had to resort to them peeing in public. We always "tried" before leaving home, restaurants, or anytime they filled up and/or we anticipated not seeing a toilet for a while.

Although I agree with the issues Diana raises about the lack of public restrooms and signage downtown, there's also a social element to the problem. Somehow men (not all of them) don't care if they're seen peeing in an alley after an evening of drinking, whereas most women would be mortified. The people who care plan ahead (or stay home or drink less or take other precautions) and the ones who don't care don't.

Posted by Citizen, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 21, 2008 at 4:54 pm

It has more to do with respect and morals. All the liberals, hippies and immigrants think they and their kids can pee all over the city. They all need to be arrested. Just today I was at the Stanford shopping center and witnessed a woman in Indian garb holding her young daughter squatting and having her urinate in the parking lot for everyone to see. I tired to find mall security but they were gone, leaving behind a puddle for people to walk through. Absolutely disrespectful.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Do you know how difficult it is to find a restroom in Stanford Shopping Center?

Posted by Citizen, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 21, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Not that difficult. If your kids can't hold it, they should still be in diapers. Do you let your kids pee in public anytime you have to think or look a little to find a bathroom? I should not have to watch them expose themselves in public and leave an unsanitary puddle on the ground because of your laziness.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2008 at 5:57 pm


I was not defending the action, I was stating a fact. I wasn't even thinking of kids needing to pee, more of myself at 6 months pregnant and not able to find a restroom without walking all over Macy's looking for one.

The problem is, that there are no convenient restrooms and that is a design flaw. If parents did as I have done (have a potty in the car) then kids can pee there. Adults needing to pee don't have that option.