Smogland Radio is a news podcast by and for LA from Los Angeles Public Press. Twice a month, we’ll have reporting that holds powerful people accountable, advice on how to thrive in Los Angeles, and in-depth stories about the issues that affect all of us. We’re hard on this city, because we want it to be better. We may be one of the smoggiest counties in the country, but we don’t have to be.
This week, we’re digging into why we have just fourteen truly public bathrooms in Los Angeles. Reporter Maylin Tu talks about the history of those fourteen bathrooms, why we don’t seem to be getting many more (even with the Olympics looming), and how it all relates to the criminalization of poverty and homelessness. Plus, we have a eulogy — for now! — of another historic Little Tokyo business: Anzen Hardware.
Disclaimer: This a brief guide to using LAMC 41.47.1. This is not legal advice. Nor is it a guarantee that someone will let you use their loo.
You’re running down the Ballona Creek bike path on a perfect October morning when it hits: the leftover shrimp and grits you ate is demanding immediate evacuation from your body. You do the pee math in your head: It’s another hour and a half to get home, at least. Veering off the path and into the nearest neighborhood, you find a coffee shop. But when you finally make it through the line of people ordering vanilla cardamom lattes — with an extra pump of vanilla, please — and ask for the bathroom key, the cashier says it’s for customers only. As the other patrons of the establishment look on with thinly veiled disgust, you kick yourself for leaving your wallet at home.
Enter a little known section of the LA Municipal Code.
LAMC 41.47.1, or as we are referring to it here at LA Public Press the “public bathrooms are public” law, states that:
If restroom facilities are made available for the public, clients, or employees, no person owning, controlling, or having charge of such accommodation or facility shall prohibit or prevent the use of such restroom facilities by a person with a physical handicap, regardless of whether that person is a customer, client, employee, or paid entrant to the accommodation or facility.
The law goes on to define “person with a physical handicap,” which includes:
…an individual who requests the use of the restroom facilities and states that because of a physical infirmity he or she requires immediate access to restroom facilities.
So, if you go into a public building and say that because of a physical infirmity you require immediate access to a bathroom, by law, that facility is required to let you use the bathroom.
And no, you don’t have to buy anything.
“It’s untested, but the spirit of the law is very much public accommodations need to be available — toilets need to be available for people who need to use them for physical reasons,” said Shayla Myers, senior attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
This ordinance was uncovered by longtime activist and founder of the Los Angeles Bathroom Liberation Front, Adrian Riskin. As part of his campaign to free the bathrooms, he goes into public buildings and asks to use the bathroom. If they don’t allow him to use their facilities, he tells them that they are legally required to do so and gives them a copy of LAMC 41.47.1.
Could this little-known law change the game for bathroom access in the city of LA? This law is untested, meaning that no one has ever been prosecuted for breaking it.
Have you tried to use LAMC 41.47.1? Let us know.
Q: How does the law define public accommodations or facilities?
A: According to the California Health and Safety Code: “public accommodations and facilities” is defined as “a building, structure, facility, complex, or improved area which is used by the general public and shall include auditoriums, hospitals, theaters, restaurants, hotels, motels, stadiums, and convention centers.”
Q: Does this include employee bathrooms?
Q: Do you have to buy something?
Q: Do you have to prove that you have a physical infirmity?
Q: Does this apply to all of LA County?
A: No, it only applies to the city of Los Angeles.