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Downtown restroom contract OK’d

Friday, October 5, 2018 by Jo Clifton

On Thursday City Council directed staff to execute a contract with Blue Chem Inc. for waste removal services at a city-owned portable toilet downtown. The initial two-year contract is for $330,000, but if the contract is extended to five years the total will be $775,000.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who represents District 9, including downtown, has been a strong advocate for making toilets available to the public. She expressed frustration Thursday with the lengthy process the city is going through in order to establish permanent downtown restroom facilities.

Mayor Steve Adler also expressed some frustration because of a news report that erroneously stated that the toilet facilities were only being serviced once a day. According to the staff report, the company services the facilities 2 to 5 times daily and is available 24/7 every day of the year.

“The restrooms have had a very strong impact on public health in the area where they were functioning,” Tovo said. “And I absolutely think we need to continue them. … It is a matter of human dignity, as well as public health.”

Tovo pointed out that she and her colleagues approved a resolution in 2016 directing the city manager to take steps to immediately procure two wheelchair-accessible public toilet facilities. The resolution directed management to “find ways to expedite the procurement process of a permanent public restroom, and to return to the City Council for approval of this purchase as soon as feasible.”

According to a memo from Robert Spillar, director of the city’s Transportation Department, and Richard Mendoza, director of the Public Works Department, the city has been running a pilot program with one temporary restroom, which was placed at five different locations around the downtown area.

Ambassadors from the Downtown Austin Alliance provided information to users and notified city staff about needed repairs, all the while collecting data on usage. The toilet received the most usage when it was located at Sixth Street and the Interstate 35 frontage road, in the 500 block of Brazos Street, and at Red River and Sixth streets. The DAA and the city found that the toilet was most often misused when it was placed at Red River and Sixth streets, according to the memo.

“Observations on the surrounding streets of public urination and defecation (not including alleys and green spaces) were also tracked in the vicinity of the temporary unit locations before, during, and after each placement. With the exception of a placement at Colorado and Cesar Chavez, observations of public waste generally decreased during and after deployment of the temporary restroom unit,” the memo noted.

City staff is recommending two places for the permanent facility, one near the I-35 Frontage Road, in the small parking lot adjacent to the Municipal Court at Seventh Street and I-35, and in the 500 block of Brazos.

In addition, staff is recommending a joint effort between the Transportation Department, Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Convention Center and Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority to serve the new Capital Metro downtown station and Brush Square Park. That toilet would be located on Trinity Street near the park and could be constructed using city money and Capital Metro station construction money.

Tovo questioned Mendoza about how long it would take to get the permanent toilets installed, and he indicated that it would be another nine months.

Sitting next to City Manager Spencer Cronk and looking directly at him, Tovo said, “We directed the purchase (of the toilets), identified the funding. I sure hope we can figure a way to move forward – please look for every solution, so that we can actually make the purchase rather than wait another nine months to actually get it on the ground.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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