Santa Monica council to consider gender neutral restrooms, some councilmembers concerned

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In 2022, Santa Monica’s state senator Ben Allen passed a bill that granted cities authority to require new or renovated public toilet facilities within its jurisdiction to be designated as all-gender.  The Cities of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood co-sponsored this bill and it was approved by Governor Newsom.  

In supporting the bill, the City of Santa Monica wrote:

“Clean, accessible, and safe restrooms are a universal need, and the City of Santa Monica has strived to ensure that public restrooms are available to all of our residents and visitors. However, the City recognizes that there is a need for more inclusive gender-neutral restroom facilities that will benefit all including gender diverse and transgender individuals, for those individuals that require the assistance of a caregiver of a different gender, and for parents with children of different genders.

SB 1194 would give cities and counties the flexibility and a clear implementation path to require all restrooms in public to be gender neutral. The state’s current building and plumbing codes require that separate toilet facilities be provided for each gender however, the City of Santa Monica believes that requiring gender-neutral public restrooms without reducing the total number of plumbing fixtures provided is a safer and more inclusive alternative”

Santa Monica also issued a press release with former Mayor Himmelrich supporting the measure at the time the Governor signed it.

The legislature passed this bill to allow cities to move forward with designating all-gender multi-user restrooms in advance of an update to the California Building Code that would eventually do the same.

However, now three “change slate” councilmembers are concerned about gender-neutral public restrooms.  Councilmember Phil Brock questions: “Are we doing so much for (one group) that we’re sacrificing everyone else? Are we going to lead to more sexual assaults? … We have enough problems in the city right now.”

Councilmember Negrete, who, according to a letter from the bar’s lawyers, distributed gift cards to police officers on behalf of the bar prior to an alleged sexual assault, said “she also worries about young women sharing bathrooms in bars. ‘Are we now putting people in positions that are more vulnerable for them?…I think we’re getting into an area we haven’t thoughtfully thought out.’”

The City Council votes this Tuesday on Item #10A – an Ordinance adding Gender Neutral Public Restroom Access. You can let the council know what you think via email.

Possible multi-use all-gender restroom designs from staff report

The staff report makes clear that an all-gender multi-use restroom would be based on designs that differ from many existing-use restrooms.  All-gender multi-use restrooms would not have a front door and instead use design elements for privacy, a new design with floor-to-ceiling doors with locking mechanisms, visually-separated urinals, and the possible substitution of an enclosed toilet for each urinals.  Such a design with common sinks could help required restrooms fit into a smaller floor area of a building, encourage the addition of ADA/family restrooms within the multi-use restroom.  And, as someone who’s walked right by the long line for many women’s restrooms, I suspect the multi-gender, multi-use restroom would lead to more equitable wait times between genders.

Juan Matute
Juan Matute
Juan writes a column and occasionally does technical stuff for Santa Monica Next.

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