Posted By johntarantino1 on August 12, 2010
After considering alternatives to a 24-hour Portland Loo at Jamison Square for almost a year, it seems the community really never had any options.
The Pearl District Neighborhood Association voted to accept the city’s specially designed public toilet last month, despite about 10 other ideas offered by neighbors at a meeting attended by 70 people two days earlier.
Sandy Ammerman, the primary spokesperson for neighbors opposing the Loo, said the board’s decision “was a foregone conclusion” affirming a PDNA position taken last year.
Although residents of condominium buildings surrounding the park insisted that these other options be explored, none of their suggestions came with the requisite funding and authorization from the affected property owners. Some neighbors favored doing nothing, but the idea of providing no means of relief for the thousands of children and adults who flock to the park’s popular water feature was unthinkable to most board members.
Stripped of euphemism and generality, the objections centered on fear that an overnight restroom would be used by homeless people and lead to a clustering of anti-social behaviors that would make the area feel unwelcome or unsafe.
“If you build it, they will come,” said Sheila McCoy, a PDNA board member who lives in the Streetcar Lofts. McCoy said she hears people pushing shopping carts past her windows until 3 a.m., suggesting to her that it would not take a strong magnet to cause them to congregate in or around the park.
“You’re absolutely right,” said Officer Carl Weldon, who has tracked behavior around the city’s first Loo, located on Northwest Glisan by the bus station. Weldon said he has found drug paraphernalia in and around that Loo, and arrests are high in the vicinity, although he admitted that it is impossible to separate the public restroom from other contributing factors in the vicinity.
However, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese has said he considers the Loo experiment on Glisan Street a success. “It is my opinion that the Loo makes sense in Jamison…
Square,” said Reese, who was commander of Central Precinct at the time. While neighbors at the meetings complained about the unsightly or odiferous nature of public toilets, they would not have pushed for Porta-Pottys, as they did, if these were overriding considerations.
Pearl board members sympathized with those who feared a Loo might become an attractive nuisance, and several had pleaded unsuccessfully with Leonard to allow it to be locked overnight.
“I have tried like hell, and I did not win that argument,” said PDNA planning chair Patricia Gardner. Given an all-or-nothing choice, the board voted 10-2 for the Loo. But not before some soul-searching about the necessity of accepting 24-hour operation.
Jan Valentine, who chairs the PDNA Livability Committee, wondered why Leonard had the power to dictate that a restroom never close when the park itself has a closing time. “I don’t accept that we cannot negotiate with a commissioner,” said Valentine.
Several past and present board members supported the Loo even though they would have preferred that it be locked at night. Former PDNA President David August assured neighbors that “we have a superb record of going to the city” when livability issues arise and achieving solutions. August said the city is more likely to be responsive if and when there’s a documented problem instead of just a fear that something bad might happen. Advised of the neighborhood association’s decision and expectation of help if and when needed, Commissioner Leonard revealed no latitude.
“People need facilities to perform basic human functions 24 hours a day,” Leonard told the Examiner. “The Loo was specifically designed to minimize the opportunity to use the Loo for illicit activities and has in fact been demonstrated to do just that in its current location on Northwest Fifth and Glisan, a neighborhood with an overwhelming number of homeless men and women.”
The city approved $500,000 to design and build several Portland Loos. About $1,200 has been set aside for daily cleanup and maintenance. “There are problems throughout downtown Portland with some of the issues you identify,” Leonard continued. “To suggest that installing a 24-hour Loo would somehow create those kinds of issues where they otherwise would not exist is unfair and, I believe, not accurate.
“If any negative issues arise as a result of the new Loo, we will address those issues. However, I do not think limiting the use of the Loo would be one of the options we would entertain.” Ammerman vowed to challenge the decision at city hall.
“We will not give up, and we will not give in,” she said. “The neighborhood’s quality of life, and the success of our businesses, are literally at risk. This small neighborhood park is an entirely inappropriate place for a 24-hour-a-day Loo.”