Prices paid for San Diego public loos

Annual cleaning tab is $99,720 for two; in Portland, six cost less than $105K

Portland Loo
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A lot has, and hasn’t, happened in the decades since downtown’s public restroom shortage came to light. Two grand jury reports and vast sums of money have been aimed at the problem, the homeless population has swelled, and just two single-stall toilets were added, one of which may be removed.

Or, as the latest grand jury report puts it, “very little progress has been made.” Like the last report directed to the city council, this one calls for more restrooms and a budget to maintain them. But the upkeep of the two easy-to-clean, graffiti-proof Portland Loos installed since December costs more than in any city that has them.

Now, city staff is proposing to remove the loo at 14th and L streets, a lightning rod of crime and complaints, with no clear way forward. The loo at Park Boulevard and Market Street could even be next.

No city has had a harder time with the loos than San Diego, says Evan Madden of Madden Fabrications, the Oregon company that markets them. “I’ve sold 21 restrooms to cities, and I’ve never had one cost so much to install, let alone maintain, than in San Diego.” Not that other cities don’t have toilet troubles. In fact, Portland initially hawked its patented Portland Loos to cities everywhere to pay for their maintenance. After a ratepayer lawsuit, Portland now relies on its general fund, as San Diego does, to pay maintenance costs.

Portland’s loos have also faced crime. In 2011, police blamed one of the units for worsening the drug and prostitution trade. Then there’s Seattle, which Portland used as a model of what not to do. In 2003, Seattle spent $5 million on five high-tech, self-cleaning restrooms for tourists, sports fans, and homeless people. They became havens for drug use and prostitution. In 2008 they were sold on eBay for $2500 each.

This year Seattle plans to open a Portland Loo; a better crime deterrent, proponents say, since it allows less privacy. San Francisco has also struggled with self-cleaning toilets. San Diego’s grand jury report praises their 25 toilets compared to San Diego’s 8 (counting the two loos and restrooms being built at Horton Plaza, with only the loos and a restroom at the Civic Center complex open 24-7). But San Francisco's automatic toilets have been plagued with maintenance problems. Still, San Diego stands out for its high maintenance costs for the loos.

“Every city is going to be different,” says Bryan Aptekar, who handles the cleaning contract for Portland’s downtown loos. He notes that they use service providers who are already working in the area, which keeps costs down. Portland’s annual cost for twice-daily cleaning and minor repairs of six loos is an average of $19,833 each, made easy by features like the exterior drain that aids weekly power-washing. It does not include utility costs (sewer and water), he says. The total of $119,000 breaks down as $105,000 for the cleaning contract and $14,000 for routine maintenance and repairs. Seattle will pay about $30,000 a year per loo, with maintenance handled by a Business Improvement District.

Arcata, the second California city to buy a Portland Loo, estimates cleaning costs of $20,000–$25,000 annually, including labor, supplies, and vandalism.

And San Diego?

On July 29, an update on the loos was given at the city council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee meeting that included a cleaning estimate. (The annual janitorial maintenance contract ended in July, but Park and Recreation staff has since secured a new one). The cleaning tab for the two loos is $99,720 (compared to $105,000 for six loos in Portland).

The expenses cover three daily scrubs of the more controversial loo for $53,472 and twice-daily service of the other loo for $46,248. There are also four porta-potties costing $9807, for an annual total of $109,527. That doesn’t include vandalism, which adds another $30,000 (Arcata includes such repairs in its estimate).

And the downtown loos have faced vandalism despite daily cleaning. The crime and complaints “could be eliminated,” the grand jury report said, by hiring security guards, along with frequent cleaning and upkeep. But the maintenance tab doesn’t include security guards, either. In a proposed response to the report, the city estimates that security would require additional annual funding of $168,000 to $400,000.

So, removal or relocation of the 14th Street loo is proposed as a better use of funds. Its maintenance dollars could be used to stretch the hours of ten public restrooms at the St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter nearby.

Estimates for Father Joe’s Villages to clean, service, and provide 24-hour security at their restrooms is $80,000 to $105,000.

“The facilities at St. Vincent de Paul could provide more stalls in a safe and monitored environment for a similar amount of money being spent on one loo,” says Katie Keach, deputy chief of staff for city councilmember Todd Gloria, whose district includes downtown.

But that may not address the shortage of commodes for all segments of the public noted in the report. Will tourists or Petco Park–goers use the public homeless shelter restrooms? Gloria doesn’t consider the option a solution to the lack of restrooms downtown, Keach says. The proposal is only “meant to address the challenges of one loo.”

The Girl's Think Tank, a homeless advocacy group that brought the idea of the Portland Loo to the city in 2010, is urging the city to give the loos more time. The mayor and city council have until October to respond to the grand jury report.

The city has no plan for adding others.

In their proposed response on the slow progress, they cite one reason as the high cost to maintain street toilets in the public right of way. Loo-maker Evan Madden stresses the importance of visibility in siting the toilets, which some say the 14th Street loo is lacking.

“Everyone feels like your neighbor,” he says of the community approach that aims to shape behavior through design, reducing security problems, and ultimately, maintenance costs. “I would love to know what went wrong in San Diego.”

(revised 8/17, 7 a.m.)

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This is a classic boondoggle created by stupid politicians who have no common sense. The managers of every department that had anything to do with this stupid idea should be fired. The departments should have their budgets cut by the amount of money spent on this project. Proof that the Silly of San Diego has no one working their with common sense. Every council person that voted in favor of the Portland Loo should be recalled. It would have been cheaper to clean up after the human trash than to provide any services but if toilets are needed portable toilets are a lot less expensive and easier to clean.

The "loo" project looked good when it was approved by the City Council in February 2014. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20... But project costs soared and the completion date got moved ahead (like the current Horton Plaza re-do). What a surprise, right? And, of course, tourists will NOT use homeless shelter restrooms.

How much does ot cost to maintain a brick and mortar restroom such as those from OB to LJ Shores?

this is why folks don't want to let the Government run anything.....first it was $500k for the dumb toilets now it's $100k to clean them.....it is a darn toilet people! This is like the La Jolla life guard station, we spent nearly $4,000.00 per square foot on some edifice that the guards could not even see out of........it is just unimaginable waste and fraud and I agree, anyone who has touched thee projects should be fired immediately.

Some of those homeless people are still trying to hang on to whatever scrap of dignity that remains. There are men, women and families among them. They are despised at every encounter and unwelcome in businesses or other facilities. Health issues and poor diet can cause times of gastric distress. A clean toilet at a time of need could be the bright spot in their day.

It would seem that several Porta Potties would cost a lot less for maintenance and cleaning than two Portland Loos. No, they're not flush toilets but they are used all the time in SD for events.

Why can't we give "thumbs down" to posts?

These are the very "people" who are trashing restrooms, using them as shooting galleries, or ignoring them to crap behind a bush... if we're lucky!

Want a clean restroom? Go to a shelter. One of the things they probably need is volunteers to clean the restrooms. Contribute instead of demanding.

Wouldn't you know that this fiasco occurred in Councilperson Todd Gloria's district. This mans incompetence and lack of leadership is legendary in the Third District where his failures are dragging down the entire City. He failed to deliver on the Balboa Park Centennial, failed to deliver on the minimum wage, failed as Interim Mayor, and failed as a representative of his constituancy, but he did succeed in flushing $ 100,000's of tax payer dollars down the toilet. San Diego will be a better place when Councilperson Gloria's pretentious act is termed out of office.

In all fairness to Councilmember Gloria, you haven't read the SD County Grand Jury report on the Centennial disaster. It's worth reading. http://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/dam/sdc/grandjury/reports/2014-2015/BalboaParkCelebrationLessonsLearnedReport.pdf It's lengthy, but this sentence tells the tale: "City officials did not adequately monitor the Balboa Park Celebration project." Todd Gloria is not mentioned at all, but it does say: "City Council must share responsibility for its lack of oversight." The change in mayors during that period is also emphasized. Remember, this was a project created and supervised by the SD Mayor's office, not by the City Council. As for the minimum wage increase, the City Council as a body can be blamed for caving in to the business establishment.

Dear Mr. dwbat, I have not read the Grand Jury Report, but have confidence in your report on it's contents. Balboa Park is in Todd Gloria's district, so he had special reason to concern himself with the Centennial effort. The change of Mayors you mentioned included Todd Gloria as interim Mayor. City Councilperson or interim Mayor, Todd Gloria's performance was judged deficient by the Grand Jury. Todd Gloria led the minimum wage effort until he caved to his friends in the business establishment. Todd Gloria is all about big business and is completely insensitive to the needs of the ordinary citizen in his district. He does not deserve election to any other office once he is termed out.

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