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Councilmembers Concerned About Gender-Neutral Public Restrooms

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Editor's note: While Councilmembers Negrete, Brock and de la Torre expressed concerns about having men and women share a public restroom, Negrete said she supports the item, while Brock and de la Torre were undecided when they were interviewed.

By Jorge Casuso

April 21, 2023 --(UPDATED) Several Councilmembers are expressing concerns about supporting an item on Tuesday's agenda that would require gender-neutral public restrooms in new buildings.

The proposed measure is meant to foster "greater inclusivity and equity" by making members of the "trans and gender non-conforming communities" feel safe using public restrooms ("Council Could Require Gender-neutral Public Restrooms in New Buildings," April 18, 2023).

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But some Councilmembers worry that the measure -- which comes at a time when crime and homelessness remain the top concerns for Santa Monica residents -- could make girls and women more vulnerable.

"I think there's a lot of concerns about having underage kids" sharing the bathrooms with adults of the opposite sex, said Councilmember Lana Negrete.

Negrete said she also worries about young women sharing bathrooms in bars. "Are we now putting people in positions that are more vulnerable for them?" she said. "I think we're getting into an area we haven't thoughtfully thought out."

Councilmember Phil Brock agrees. "I don't think women will want to use them," he said. "It gives them no privacy."

The item, he said, raises some 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," he said.

Proposed signs for Gender-neutral public restrooms
Proposed signs for Gender-neutral public restrooms (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre notes that making bathrooms gender-neutral could heighten a growing fear of crime.

"There is considerable controversy over this item, and it might make sense to address the current social conditions," de la Torre said.

It is important, he said, "to ensure we are not making a change that looks progressive on the surface but leads to unintended consequences that create more liabilities and potential threats to public safety."

The ordinance proposed by staff does not directly address the issue of public safety, but includes possible designs that can be used to meet privacy standards.

Among the standards are providing entrances without doors that "obstruct or prevent visual security," requiring private locked stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls and designating a "visually separated urinal area."

The Council will vote on the measure seven months after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill backed by the cities of Santa Monica and West Hollywood that authorizes a city to require that all new public restrooms be gender-neutral.

"Support legislation that mandates gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms" was one of 126 priorities listed in the City of Santa Monica State Legislative Platform 2021 Update.

SB-1194 -- sponsored by Santa Monica Sen. Ben Allen -- was introduced on February 17, 2022 and approved by the Governor on September 29, according to the California Legislative Record.

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