If you want to know where California’s headed, dragging the rest of America in its wake, consider the $1.7 million single public toilet the city is going to install in the Noe Valley neighborhood. Don’t hold your breath, by the way, because if we’re lucky, the toilet will be available to the public sometime in 2025.
Everything about this toilet fiasco exemplifies how the system has broken down in California, failing normal working people in order to benefit special interests. To begin to identify these special interests, you can start with the California Assemblyman who obtained these funds from the state, Democrat Matt Haney.
Haney’s running for reelection this November, against another Democrat in this ultra Blue seat in an ultra Blue state. A quick scan of Haney’s top ten political contributors, all of whom made the “small contributor committee” maximum donation of $9,700, were either government employee unions such as the California Teachers Association, or unions representing employees of contractors that do mostly government work, such as the California State Association of Electrical Workers. Every one of them.
Like nearly every Democrat legislator in the one-party state, Haney owes his political career to government unions. It’s easy enough to verify this. Go to the California Secretary of State’s campaign finance website and scan through the 2022 data on donations to candidates.
This data, overwhelming in its consistency, demonstrates another sad truth about “democracy” in California. Haney, like nearly every other Democrat in California, doesn’t have to work hard to raise money. Republicans, on the other hand, have no choice, because they’re not owned by government unions who spend hundreds of millions every year on politics. Republicans have to perpetually organize grassroots fundraisers, collecting a little here and a little there, never getting ahead. That’s normal, by the way. But not for Democrats. Thanks to government unions, the financial advantage Democrats have in California is so one-sided it’s amazing any Republicans get elected. In return, Haney, along with his counterparts, does what he’s told.
In that context, spending $1.7 million on a single toilet makes sense. Why not spend hundreds of thousands for designs, permits, reviews, materials and labor? Why not stretch the process out for years in order to prolong the period at the taxpayer trough?
Wasting this much money on one public toilet is an example of how California’s governing class has broken the social contract and betrayed the people they’re supposed to serve, but it’s unfair to single out public sector unions as the only reason this has happened. Government unions have an inherent conflict of interest, since success for them involves more members and more money for their members, and that success can be had even if the policies they implement are complete failures. In fact, failures for society are often huge victories for government unions. California’s ruined system of public education is a perfect example of this. The worse things get, the more money is demanded and received. But government unions are only part of the reason California is broken.
This can be easily seen in how California’s homeless crisis is being managed. After squandering well over $10 billion, the state’s homeless problem is worse than ever. Public bureaucracies to supposedly help California’s “unhoused” are bigger than ever, which is a big win for the government unions. But also at the trough are powerful nonprofits and politically connected developers and construction contractors. Using environmental regulations, labor laws, misguided laws that have effectively decriminalized drug use and petty theft, and the federal “housing first” policy that denies funding for drug treatment or job training until “supportive housing” is provided, these special interests have spent billions of dollars on projects and programs that have done more harm than good.
The story of the $1.7 million single toilet is also a parable for California’s housing crisis. There’s no reason housing should be unaffordable in California that isn’t the result of special interests feeding at the trough. California is a vast state, over 163,000 square miles, that is only 5 percent urbanized. Along with tremendous reserves of open space on which to build new homes, California is rich in the natural resources necessary to build homes and roads. But regulators have reduced California’s timber industry to less than a quarter of its size only 30 years ago (the real reason they’re having catastrophic fires – overgrown and overcrowded forests), and are on track to completely eliminate the state’s oil industry. No trees, no lumber for houses. No oil, no asphalt for roads.
Shortages of land and lumber, both of which have to be imported from other states and nations, are politically contrived and unnecessary. But that only begins to explain California’s unaffordable housing. Exorbitant costs for permits and fees, excessive planning requirements, the inevitable environmentalist litigation, and unreasonable building code mandates (“carbon neutral” new homes) add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of a home in California.
The alternatives are not mysteries. Deregulate the timber industry, along with oil and gas, and loosen the restrictions that prevent new construction on raw land. Roll back the expensive new building codes, reform the laws that facilitate endless litigation, and lower the punitive costs for building permits and fees. Invest public funds in new roads, along with practical water and energy infrastructure instead of relying on rationing and “renewables” to power civilization in the 21st century.
Alternatives to treat the homeless are also not elusive. End the “housing first” scam and give the homeless a choice: either sober up and get treatment for addiction and mental illness, in a safe but inexpensive shelter constructed on inexpensive real estate, or go to jail. These solutions worked in the past and they will work again, as soon as politicians find the courage and the character to stop taking political contributions from special interests that benefit from chaos and corruption.
As for the $1.7 million toilet, Haney should apologize to the City of San Francisco and give the money back to the state. But Haney is a cog in a machine he didn’t create. In the compromised world of San Francisco politics, the best we might hope for is a thorough accounting of why this toilet costs this much, and why it takes so long. That might generate public demands for a streamlined, less expensive process.
There ought to be a zero-cost alternative, but the one available to San Franciscans is fraught with its own controversy. As reported by NBC Bay Area, “according to the San Francisco department of public works it has a deal with the company JC Decaux to provide self cleaning public potties for free in exchange for advertising revenue made from the units. These free public toilet kiosks are already sprinkled throughout the city, with more on the way.
Nothing is perfect, unfortunately. These free toilets in San Francisco have been targets of vandals, they have been frequently disabled, and turned into dens for drugs, sex, and even squatting. Moreover, the San Francisco bureaucrats who negotiated the deal with JC Decaux did not diligently solicit new bids when the contract with the city came up for renewal a few years ago. But these reality checks just point to even more dysfunction from the top down. The corrupt bureaucrats, the decriminalized crime, the unaccountable criminals.
San Francisco is a beautiful city. California is a beautiful state. But its leaders, state and local, are doing everything they can to ruin it.
This article originally appeared in the Epoch Times.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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