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The Very Expensive Toilet

11 December 2023



Set in the bayside city of San Francisco, The Very Expensive Public Toilet shows how the quest to build a simple restroom in a popular local meeting place became much more complicated, political and famous than the City would have liked.

The story begins in late 2022 when the California state government awards a $1.7 million grant to the City of San Francisco to construct a long-awaited public toilet in the Noe Valley Town Square. In a city short on public toilets and dealing with a public defecation ‘epidemic’, every extra restroom counts. But what would normally have be an ephemeral piece of local news becomes an international embarrassment when a San Francisco Chronicle columnist picks up the story and questions why a single toilet should take two years and cost as much as a house to complete.

The controversy soon leads the California Governor to withhold the grant until San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department trims the price tag. Before they can get to shrinking the budget, however, the City is gifted a ready-made answer in the form of a prefabricated toilet. Donated by a Nevada-based company, it also comes with an offer to cover installation costs. Seems like the perfect solution but is it?

The Case and its Epilogue examine the difficulties involved in even simple-sounding public infrastructure projects and how they can touch on issues of public value, budgeting, waste, transparency, homelessness, public health, inequality and civil rights.

The epilogue can be downloaded here.

Authors: Marinella Padula
Published Date: 11 December 2023
Author Institution: ANZSOG
Content Length: 20
Product Type: One-part case