How to Fix San Francisco’s Poop Problem
When people think of San Francisco, they conjure up images of beautiful Victorians, steep hills, dense fog, billion dollar tech companies, progressive politics, and human poop on the street. Yes, our glorious city is recognized the world over as the premier defecation destination. Not only have there been scores of articles written about our poop problems, we’ve received the honor of having multiple people make poop maps of San Francisco. Eat your heart out Fresno.
As I write this, there is a temporary pause in the deluge that’s been pouring down on the West Coast for a week. When I stepped outside earlier I thought to myself, “One of the best things about when it rains in San Francisco is that the city doesn’t smell like piss and shit for a few days.” The thing is, our city doesn’t have to be like this. With some common sense changes, and some political will, we can fix this serious problem. While solving our homelessness crisis is a much larger and complicated thing, clearing up our crap conundrum doesn’t have to be.
When I ran for mayor in 2015, the first part of my platform was all about dealing with our dung debacle. It was unanimously popular; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many San Franciscans agree on an issue before. I even tried to give myself the nickname the “Pope of Poop.” In retrospect, I’m really glad that one didn’t stick.
What it all came down to though was the idea that, what kind of city are we if we’d rather have poop on the streets than give homeless people a place to go to the bathroom? Not only is it disgusting and unsanitary, it’s also taking away the human dignity of people who are already in a terrible situation. So here are the ideas I put forward:
Scattered throughout The City are 200 or so public bathrooms tucked away in libraries, public parks, Muni/BART stations, and civic buildings. We need to open these toilets up 24 hours a day and have them staffed for cleanliness and safety. When I ran in 2015, only 88 of these facilities were open past 6 pm and only 28 were open 24 hours. I doubt the numbers are much better now. Let’s make public bathrooms public!
Secondly, we need to build more bathrooms. San Francisco has a budget of over $9 billion. That’s more than many small countries. We can definitely afford to build new bathrooms and staff them, as well as open up the existing ones and staff those too.
If for some reason all that money is tied up with projects like, I don’t know…a never-ending tunnel to Chinatown, we could put a 1 percent tax on all new construction projects that cost over $10 million. San Francisco currently has a law that requires all large projects in the Downtown and nearby neighborhoods provide public art that equals at least 1 percent of the total construction cost. So adding 1 percent for more public bathrooms isn’t all that crazy. On top of that, we could combine the projects and have artists decorate the new public bathrooms, making them not only vitally important but also beautiful.
Thirdly, we could start a program where businesses get big tax breaks for allowing people to use their bathrooms. In my campaign I called it the Free to Pee Program. Any business that joined it would put a “Free to Pee” sign in their window notifying folks that they were allowed to use the restrooms there. This was more to help tourists find places to use the loo, but could work for homeless folks as well.
Luckily since 2015, there have been some strides to address our fecal fiasco. Mayor Ed Lee rolled out the San Francisco Pit Stop program that put 25 pop up restrooms around The City where folks could use the toilet, clean themselves up, drop-off used needles, and get baggies for their dog doo-doo. Unfortunately it just hasn’t been enough, since the hours of all the pit stops are limited, and there just isn’t enough supply to meet the demand.
Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and SoMa — two of SF’s most excrement-heavy districts — has also recently announced some new measures. One is a new program to see that sidewalks in the Tenderloin get power washed every week instead of every month. The other is a pilot program to keep three Pit Stop toilets open 24 hours a day. His aim is to get all the Pit Stops to be open round the clock, but at the moment, Mayor London Breed has only agreed to keep the original three accessible at all times (Note: this may have been updated since this article originally appeared in December 2019).
As you can see, this is still an uphill battle and we all know which way poop rolls. So if you’re tired of having to constantly look down while you walk, and sick of your city being famous for its fecal matter, call your supervisor and the Mayor’s office and demand they do something about this crap.