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Tovo, Garza to help fund downtown toilet project

Friday, September 30, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Downtown Austin has scores of restaurants, bars and shops, but what it does not have is strategically located public toilets. That deficiency has proved problematic for any number of people, including the homeless and late-night visitors on the streets after bars have closed.

City Council passed a resolution back in January citing the need for 24-hour restrooms, not just for the comfort of the public but also as a tool for reducing the level of bacteria in Austin watersheds.

Council directed city staff to meet with stakeholders and study various types of public toilets that the city might install. That effort has happened, with the city choosing the Portland Loo as the appropriate facility, according to Stephanie Hayden, deputy director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. That toilet will be installed in a permanent location, but first the city must conduct a pilot project to find that location.

As Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo explained via email, “We were able to include money for a permanent restroom and some portable restrooms in the area under (Interstate 35) between 6th and 8th streets within next year’s budget. However, we weren’t able to include an allocation for the pilot program to test different locations in the Downtown area.”

So Tovo, with some help from Council Member Delia Garza, is funding the pilot project by taking about $37,000 out of her office budget and a smaller amount from Garza’s kitty. Council approved the budget amendment that makes that arrangement possible at last week’s meeting.

Hayden explained that the pilot program might test locations such as Fourth and Trinity streets, near Seventh and Neches streets and at I-35 and Seventh Street. When the test project is completed, Hayden said, the city will receive feedback from the community about the best location for the Portland Loo. She said she expects the pilot project to yield results during the first 90 days to help them determine the best permanent location.

Hayden added that the Austin Police Department’s high altitude cameras will be an important factor in deciding the location of the restroom and that for safety reasons, the restroom needs to be located in a well-lit space where there is sufficient foot traffic.

Currently, Hayden said the city is gathering the names of stakeholders who must be included in the process of deciding where the permanent restroom will go. These include downtown merchants, among others. After staff has that feedback, she said, it will go back to Council for its approval of the temporary locations.

Given the process that staff must go through before choosing the locations, it seems likely that the pilot project will not start before December. Once staff has an idea about utilization of the temporary toilets, Hayden said, it will make a recommendation about where to put the permanent restroom.

“I feel fortunate that I have sufficient funds remaining in my office budget to make sure the pilot program moves forward as stakeholders envisioned,” Tovo said. “The pilot program will provide us with important information about the best location for the permanent facility – and it will help meet the need Downtown for a sanitary and humane option for visitors and others.”

Photo courtesy of Portland Loo.

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