Santa Barbara City Council members decided last week that downtown shoppers and business owners can’t wait any longer for another public bathroom – despite the project’s high cost.

At its meeting last Tuesday, the city council approved the use of $665,130 from the Downtown Restroom Fund to design and build a new public restroom on State Street. The project, which is part of the council’s Visitor Restroom Program, was approved by a 6-1 vote, with council member Iya Falcone casting the dissenting vote. The new restroom will be located at 914 State St., one block south of Carrillo Street, in what is currently an unused space between Borders Books and Music and Fiesta Five Theaters.

John Schoof, principal civil engineer for the City of Santa Barbara, said the county is currently preparing the bidding process to determine which company will build the restroom. He said the funding for the restroom is allocated for this fiscal year, and he said he expects construction to be finished by July.

The Visitor Restroom Program, which is cosponsored by the city council and the County Redevelopment Agency, was created in response to a shortage of public restrooms downtown. Under the program, several State St. businesses receive $200 a month for allowing the public to use their restrooms. Funding for the program comes out of the county general fund.

City council member Das Williams said despite the high construction costs, the council decided to approve the project because of the urgent need for a bathroom in the area.

“There is a need for bathroom accessibility and downtown businesses have been crying out for them for a long time,” Williams said. “Everyone on the council thought that it was too much, but to do nothing would hurt local businesses and the community more than spending too much money.”

Falcone, who voted against the project, said she supports the downtown Visitor Restroom Program, but said she is opposed to this particular restroom project due to its high cost.

“If one restroom costs that much it is probably in the wrong place,” Falcone said. “We need to enhance the Visitor Restroom Program and to encourage more businesses to let the public use their facilities. We need to enhance incentives for businesses and focus on developing the program.”

Williams also said he thinks the funds for the restroom project could be better used in other areas.

“Redevelopment funds come from tax increments from local businesses, so the council is responsive to the bathroom problem for that reason,” Williams said. “But redevelopment is for the removal of areas of blight, and I feel that the funds could be used for projects like affordable housing, not for miscellaneous projects like this one.”

Schoof said he thinks the location of the restroom could also create problems for the construction project itself.

“The location is terrible, and because of the small size of the site there is no economy of scale,” Schoof said. “We can’t buy materials at a discount, and the price to mobilize contractors for the small project is expensive.”

Schoof said he believes that a committee should be created to implement the Visitor Restroom Program in Santa Barbara. He said the program should eventually include signage and maps to make it easier for visitors and local residents to locate public restrooms, including the restrooms owned by the city and businesses that offer restrooms to the public.

“The council is looking for a program, not just a Band-aid or single fix,” Schoof said.