City Council approves testing public restrooms in downtown

The Austin City Council on Thursday approved a resolution directing the City Manager to move forward with getting two mobile restrooms that will move around to different spots downtown.

Consider it a trial run for what Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo is pushing for -- one permanent public restroom downtown that may end up looking something like a "Portland Loo."

"We're hoping that the pilot will give us some sense of where our more permanent location would be and where it would be most useful and most used," Tovo said.

Tovo says in addition to downtown Austin visitors and bar patrons, it's also for the homeless.

"We do have individuals unfortunately who are living on the streets of Austin and we do have situations where business owners report that they have had to pick up human waste behind their stores," Tovo said.

"Our property and business owners have been telling us for years how frustrating it is that their doorways and alleyways and alcoves are being used inappropriately for restroom purposes just because they don't have anywhere else to go," said Bill Brice with the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Brice says the pilot program will help point out any unintended consequences.

"We know from what other downtowns have experienced that it's not perfect. So we want to understand what are the site criteria that might be most beneficial?  What's been recommended so far: areas that are well-lit, in view of APD cameras, high traffic locations," Brice said.

So how much? According to Health and Human Services staff at last week's meeting, the total cost for the two portable toilets is $272,000 a year. That includes an attendant that will clean them.

"The toilet's going to be staffed?" Council Member Zimmerman asked at the meeting Thursday.

The Mayor Pro-Tem says that number may have gone down since last week's meeting.

"It's my understanding that staff believe we can operate without one and that would be a cost-savings over what we talked about last week but it would need to be monitored to some extent to make sure individuals are using the facility appropriately," Tovo said.

Bob Woody, President of the East 6th Street Community Association and long-time downtown business owner isn't looking forward to the mobile toilets.

"I think it's a waste of energy and a waste of money and I think it's needed. So skip the moving it around.  The ARCH is there. All of the trouble is at the ARCH. Put it at the ARCH. There we've already figured it out.  Save 200 grand," he said.

Woody supports a permanent restroom in the ARCH area.  But...

"Once you add those permanent restrooms maybe the ARCH is permanently there.  Not a good idea," Woody said.

The Mayor Pro-Tem says after the pilot program, Council will meet again about the permanent restroom.

Tovo says the City Manager is also looking into unlocking the restrooms accessible from the outside of City Hall and making them available for the public to use.