Beach Bathrooms south of the Santa Monica Pier on Wednesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SANTA MONICA BEACH — Visitors will probably appreciate the fact that for the first time in many years they will have access to brand new bathrooms after fighting their way through traffic on Interstate 10 to sun themselves on Santa Monica’s beaches.

The local residents who paid for those shining commodes may complain that they were lined in gold.

According to records from the Public Works Department, the seven bathroom facilities built at strategic points along the beach cost taxpayers almost $5 million.

The original estimate by staff, before the project was put out to bid to contractors, was $3.6 million for eight units and around 112 stalls, according to a City Hall report from November 2009.

One of those, at 2400 Ocean Front Walk, has not yet gotten through the design process after neighbors complained about the proposal and sent the bathroom design back to the drawing board.

At 14 stalls for each of the seven completed units, the cost comes out to $50,700 per stall.

For reference, an actual gold-plated toilet fabricated by the Inax Corp. that debuted during Japan Week at the World Expo in Shanghai, China in 2010 cost between $20,000 and $40,000 according to Investorspot.com.

City Hall signed on to replace eight bathrooms that lined its beaches because of a class action lawsuit filed against the California Department of Parks and Recreation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The suit claimed that the bathrooms provided by State Parks and the cities that run the facilities for the agency weren’t up to snuff under the law. City Hall signed onto a consent decree put forward by the state that protected it from future litigation until at least 2016.

City Hall found eight facilities, each about 30 years old, that needed major help to qualify as accessible under ADA.

The original plan was to completely rebuild seven facilities and fix up one more. Initial building estimates from construction company CWS came in at $4.4 million, and the project was under way with an expected completion date of 2010.

That didn’t happen.

Although a few opened in 2011, this will be the first time that Santa Monica has started a summer with most of its toilets intact, said Martin Pastucha, director of Public Works.

“It’s a difficult environment to work in,” he said. “There are marine elements, weather elements and the moisture element affects all of the materials.”

It didn’t help that sewer systems work on gravity, making the sea-level bathrooms a challenge of physics as well as building supplies.

The initial building estimate was more than originally anticipated, but the costs began to mount further when staff discovered problems that went far deeper than accessibility.

After the first restroom opened, problems with sewer backups began to emerge, possibly spurred by increased use at the improved facility.

Normally, the bathrooms would see use during the day and, if there was a blockage, it wouldn’t impact the functioning of the toilets because they would have all night to drain.

“There was no reason, no history showing backups or anything else that led us to believe there was a problem with the sewer lines,” Pastucha said.

To fix it, three other companies were hired to inspect and replace the sewer laterals and existing water mains.

Though the project was expensive — with more costs expected for the eighth and final restroom — it was an important step to give disabled visitors, and everyone else, access to clean restrooms, city officials said.

“It’s important to the commission that all of the public facilities are fully accessible as well as restaurants and shops and so forth,” said Christopher Knauf, a member of the Santa Monica Disabilities Commission.

The last bathroom is expected to open in 2013.


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