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Relief in Sight for Backers of Gender Equity : Regulation: A councilman wants to require twice as many toilets for women as for men in new or remodeled places of entertainment.

September 19, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — It's intermission at the theater and the race is on: Women in evening wear power-walk to the restroom, but only a fortunate few beat the line.

Their male partners encounter little congestion and return to the lobby to wait.

"The ladies room would back up while the men's room does not," said Long Beach City Councilman Douglas S. Drummond, who has milled around plenty of lobbies waiting for his wife, Linda. "The women of my life--family and acquaintances-- have always talked about it."

Now Drummond plans to do something. At last week's council meeting, he proposed regulations that would require new and remodeled theaters, auditoriums and other places of public entertainment to have twice as many toilets for women as they do for men.

The Los Angeles City Council approved a similar measure last week.

The issue gained national attention in 1990 when Denise Wells, a legal secretary, was kicked out of a concert at The Summit arena in Houston for using a men's restroom to avoid waiting in a long line.

Since then, various states and cities have passed "potty parity" laws.

Indeed, state building regulations have required more toilets for women in theaters and auditoriums--similar to what the Long Beach measure would require--since 1990, but some cities have been slow to enforce the standards, said Tom Morrison, spokesman for the California Building Standards Commission.

The man who enforces Long Beach's plumbing code said he was unaware that the state required more toilets for women.

The city's code suggests builders include equal numbers of toilets for women and men, plus urinals for men, said Ben McVicker, the city's engineering plan check officer.

The practical application of Long Beach's current guidelines has varied considerably.

The 3,141-seat Terrace Theater, for example, has 24 toilets for women and 16 toilets and 22 urinals for men, a spokesman said. Men have 60% more fixtures.

But the situation is reversed at the new AMC theater complex on Pine Avenue. It has 23 toilets for woman, and eight toilets and seven urinals for men--a 53% edge for women. The theater complex has a capacity for 3,678 people.

It costs $1,500 to $2,000 to install a toilet with a stall in a public building, said John Harper, chief estimator for PCL Construction Services Inc., the general contractor for the Convention Center expansion project. But that does not include the costs of having to expand a bathroom.

No one at the council meeting last week spoke against Drummond's proposal. The council instructed its staff to return in about two weeks with a report on the building costs associated with such a measure.

"I understand (Drummond's) goal, and it's a laudable goal," Long Beach Chamber of Commerce President Randal J. Hernandez said. But he added that the chamber will review the proposal before deciding whether to endorse it.

"I want to make sure it's not going to cost us business and revenues for what it's going to accomplish."

Drummond said he is confident the measure won't go down the tubes.

"I think people who reflect upon it will understand," Drummond said. "I don't anticipate any organized opposition."

The council's only female, Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord, was absent. The rest of the council, meanwhile, appeared sympathetic toward Drummond's proposal.

Mayor Ernie Kell noted that his wife, Jackie, has frequently mentioned the problem.

"It's something that badly needs addressing. . . . She's going to be very happy," Kell said.

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