A YEAR AND A HALF after the city's first "loo," or public toilet, opened to cheers in December 2008 at NW 5th and Glisan, a second one is ready to be installed this week at SW Naito and Taylor. Yet another is headed to the Pearl—and not everyone's thrilled about it.
Championed by City Commissioner Randy Leonard, the loo's purpose is to decrease public urination and increase public restroom accessibility. Leonard hoped to install eight more public toilets soon after the first one opened. But construction has stalled. "It's not because of lack of interest or lack of places to put them," Leonard says.
Leonard says a new manufacturer had to be located after the first did not meet the expectations of its contract with the city. There is also a long permitting and siting process because of involvement from multiple city bureaus, including parks, fire, water, and transportation.
But as a recent battle among neighbors in the Pearl District illustrates, bureaucratic waffling isn't the biggest obstacle to loo construction. Residents fear the toilets attract crime and poor hygiene.
On July 8, the Pearl District Neighborhood Association voted to have a loo with 24-hour access built at NW 11th, across from Jamison Square. A high-traffic area, the park has long been considered as a location for a public toilet.
Discussion of where to put the automated toilet began in late 2009. Residents were alarmed, and expressed fear that it would attract homeless people, drug dealing, prostitution, safety concerns, noise, and bad smells.
Patricia Gardner, the planning chair for the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, says five alternatives were considered, including porta-potties. Gardner says the loo was the only viable option. "There are still a lot of angry people," she admits.
Sandra Ammerman is a resident of the Tanner Place Condominiums, located next to the future loo. She says there is no reason for it to be open 24 hours a day because people in the neighborhood are asleep at night. "Who would be walking around late at night?" she asks. "People who are up to no good."
Carol McCreary, a member of the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association and the advocacy organization PHLUSH ("Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human"), says there have been no issues with safety, noise, or other concerns related to the loo in Old Town. She estimates it is used 400 times a day.
"People use it and they move on. It's not a negative attractor. It's a piece of street furniture," she says.
Ammerman refused to directly comment on McCreary's statement. "It's naïve," she says, "to think the loo is going to work in every kind of neighborhood." Ammerman says she is going to continue fighting having the loo installed, but would not be any more specific.
Additional loos are planned for construction. Leonard and McCreary say only time will tell if the neighbors' "not in my backyard" attitude subsides. With more loos in Portland, Leonard thinks people will see what the "experience has been, versus what people are afraid of."