Columbia City Council to vote on rule changes for public park restrooms

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COLUMBIA – The Columbia City Council will vote Monday on a change to the city code that would make public park restrooms more accessible, regardless of a person's sex or disability.

A section of the city code dating back to 1964 prohibits anyone over the age of 4 from entering a restroom of the opposite sex. If approved, the decision will simply delete the sentence containing this rule.

The proposed change is aimed at parents of young children who may want to accompany them to the restroom, and also at caregivers of people with disabilities who are of the opposite sex.

Ward 2 Council Member Michael Trapp said it could also help a transgender person avoid potential penalties for using a preferred restroom.

“This is all part of an ongoing review to make sure that we’re providing the best experience for park users as possible," he said.  

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said the department is undergoing a larger overhaul of the city code, which needed provisions regarding drones and electronic bikes in public parks in order to be in compliance with state and federal laws.

“It was a great opportunity for our legal team to look at all of the policies. We needed to look at the entire chapter, because frankly it’s been since the 1960s since we last did a full update.”

He said Columbia Parks and Recreation has always allowed parents to bring their children into the bathroom, and caregivers to help the disabled, regardless of gender.

“We’ve been violating our own rules. So by striking this rule, we basically come in compliance with what we’ve already been doing.”

Trapp said the parks system is moving toward the addition of unisex bathrooms in the future. Griggs said many of the existing park bathrooms could be made unisex simply by changing signs and installing doors that lock behind a person after he or she enters the restroom. 

“Bottom line is, we’re bringing our Parks and Rec codes up to what the current city, state and federal codes are,” Griggs said.