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Plumbing the Problem of Equitable Restroom Space

April 04, 1986|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Patricia Oddo called it "awful," "absurd," "ridiculous" and "undescribable." Not to mention the worst case she had ever seen.

There was only a half-hour intermission at last September's Bruce Springsteen concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum--and the line for the women's restroom was at least a half-hour long.

But the line for the men's room was moving along briskly. So Oddo, 39, of Redondo Beach, did what she had never done before. She joined the desperate women who were storming the men's room--with men friends riding shotgun for protection.

"At that point," she explained, "I could care less."

For the remaining Springsteen concerts, the management converted four of the men's rooms to women's rooms and posted security guards to keep the men out.

According to the guards, the situation was rare. But many women like Oddo complain it's nearly as bad whenever they go to concerts, plays, ball games, operas, amusement parks, car shows, department stores or ski resorts.

"Women wait and wait and wait and men just go in and come out," said Beth Bonbright, a consultant to state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles). "And it's not just to comb their hair."

Torres, who said he was tired of waiting for his wife, Yolanda, to go through the line at events and found similar complaints among other men and women, asked Bonbright to research and draft a bill that would require operators of such public gathering places to provide more toilets for women. Wednesday, the proposed bill received its first approval, a 7-0 vote by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. If the governor signs the bill into law this year, new sports and entertainment areas, stadiums, community and convention halls, specialty event centers, public and amusement parks and ski resorts would be required as of Jan. 1 to comply with the Uniform Plumbing Code, which now recommends more fixtures for women in a 3-to-2 ratio. Operators of existing facilities would have to add portable toilets to meet the standards.

Women who believe they had to wait too long in lines could file a civil suit against an offending establishment that had not complied.

When Torres first suggested the bill, Bonbright said her reaction was: "Are you serious? Then I thought, why haven't we done this before?"

Contrary to the recommendations of the plumbing industry's Uniform Plumbing Code, most public men's and women's restrooms have the same number of stalls, she said. The key difference lies in the fact that men's rooms have extra urinals and sometimes even troughs, she said.

Questions about the problem invariably elicit emotional responses. That was the case in a sampling of opinion at Anaheim Stadium Tuesday night, where Patricia Oddo and others expressed their opinions. (No, they weren't in line; Anaheim appears to have a well-plumbed facility.)

Nancy Kirschke, 24, of Yorba Linda said a year ago she went to see the group Foreigner at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater and spent half the concert in a line for the women's room. "It was terrible."

"Have you ever gone skiing ?" exclaimed Lou Gabriel of Capistrano Beach. "The line at Mammoth is a thousand miles long!" That probably seems short to a woman who called the lines at basketball games "a million miles long."

When women resort to using the men's rooms, "it slows us down," complained a man who asked not to be identified.

"It happens every single place you go. (Women) have to wait at swap meets and movies and even gas stations," said Kristen Brown, 30, of Yorba Linda as she struggled to dress her 2-year-old daughter, Katie, in the rest room.

"You know 2-year-olds can't wait," she said, "and women without children are not understanding of women who have children. I've asked if I could take her in first and have been turned down," Brown said. When she was pregnant, Brown, the mother of two older boys, said she prayed for a boy so that her husband would be the one to take the child to the restroom.

No constituents pressured Torres for a bill such as the one he has introduced, Bonbright said. Torres had simply become tired of waiting for his wife, Yolanda, at events and found similar complaints among other men and women, she said. Bonbright observed it is ironic that a man came up with a proposed solution while women have suffered in silence. Some women have complained loudly, however--and with results. "It got to the point where these women were almost irate," said Paula Tomei, the business director at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. Before last summer, the theater had a women's room with four stalls and a men's room with three urinals and three stalls. "The main complaint, especially at intermission, was that they (women) were always late getting back into the show. They did say they knew the building must have been designed by a man, and that the bathrooms were definitely designed by a man."

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