From Ramos to Rinconada, the restroom renaissance is coming to Palo Alto parks.
The two parks, one a sprawling, regional draw off Embarcadero Road and the other a cozy neighborhood fixture near East Meadow Drive, soon will be furnished with bathrooms as part of the City Council's plan to offer visitors a measure of relief. In 2017, the council approved a parks master plan that identified seven parks — Bol, Bowden, Pardee, Johnson, Ramos, Robles and Terman — as promising restroom destinations. The same year, it endorsed a master plan for Rinconada Park, which includes a renovated playground, a reconfigured parking lot, new lighting fixtures and a host of other improvements meant to complement the newly renovated Junior Museum and Zoo.
The two plans converged on Monday, April 10, when the council approved a $596,556 contract with Public Restroom Company to install two-stall bathrooms in the two parks. The Rinconada Park restroom would be on the west side, next to the newly installed playground. The Ramos restroom would be next to a cedar grove off of East Meadow Drive.
The two prefabricated restroom buildings will be constructed over the next 10 months and installed in the respective locations in early 2024, according to a February presentation from Public Works staff. Council members backed the contract by a 6-1 vote, with council member Greg Tanaka dissenting.
Park bathrooms haven't always been a popular amenity in Palo Alto. Neighbors of Johnson Park in 1994 defeated a proposal to build a bathroom in the downtown open space. Two decades later, similar complaints doomed a staff plan to add a permanent bathroom in Eleanor Pardee Park in north Palo Alto.
In both cases, residents expressed concerns that public restrooms would become magnets for vagrants and unwanted visitors.
Times, however, have changed. With little opposition from its own ranks or from the wider community, the council swiftly approved the contract for the new fixtures on its "consent calendar," which is reserved for noncontroversial items and voted on without discussion.
A recent community meeting showed a clear pro-bathroom majority for Ramos, with 21 people saying they were in favor of a new restroom and seven opposing it. An online survey showed a closer split, with 82 respondents in favor and 80 opposed.
On Monday, however, there was little opposition to either bathroom proposal. Resident Herb Borock, a longtime council watchdog, opposed the contract on procedural grounds, noting that the council's prior approval of a park improvement ordinance to enable the bathroom construction at Rinconada Park never underwent a "second reading" by the council, a largely perfunctory but legally required step.
And Tanaka said he was concerned about the bidding process and suggested that the close split in the only survey for the Ramos Park bathroom should have prompted a more substantive discussion by the council. The city relied on a "piggyback" procurement process in which it basically relied on the terms that the city of Los Angeles agreed to with Public Restroom Company.
"For something kind of controversial like this, maybe it should have been an action item," Tanaka said.
The council majority, however, didn't find the proposal particularly controversial and swiftly approved it.
The restroom work will not stop at Ramos and Rinconada. Next year, the city plans to install a bathroom at Boulware Park, a Ventura fixture that was recently expanded thanks to the city's purchase of land from AT&T. The improvements also include a dog park, a new playground, a group picnic area, basketball courts and an open turf area. And in 2025, the city plans to renovate existing bathrooms at Mitchell Park and Foothills Natural Preserve, according to staff.
Annette Glanckopf, a longtime leader of the umbrella association Palo Alto Neighborhoods, lauded the addition of restrooms to local parks.
"Every good size park needs a bathroom," Glanckopf wrote to the council. "It is critical especially for seniors and children but necessary for everyone else at any age."
"People bring up time and time again the argument that the homeless will use the bathrooms. This was true when we wanted them in Hoover and Seale parks. It has not proven to be an issue."
Correction: The earlier version of the story stated that Herb Borock was challenging the Ramos Park bathroom project on procedural ground. He was referring to the Rinconada Park bathroom.