All Politics is Local

The price to pee privately in a public park

Scanning through city council emails the other day, this phrase caught my eye: “port-a-potty vigilantes.”

The line was in a memo to City Manager Eric Holmes from Julie Hannon, director of parks and recreation, and shared with the city council. Obviously there had been questions about whether the city could or should install a portable toilet in each neighborhood park.

For those of you who have better things to do with your life than think about how local government defines amenities, a “neighborhood park” is one that’s within one-half mile of every residence, or a 10-minute walk. The city has 60 developed neighborhood parks.

Unlike larger parks, neighborhood parks do not have restrooms.

According to Hannon’s memo, she’d been asked to list pros and cons of having one portable toilet in every neighborhood park.

Hannon could only come up with one pro, the obvious one: “Provides a location for park users to use facilities. These are especially handy for children, who tend to lack pre-planning abilities,” she wrote.

And then Hannon listed the cons:

1. On-going costs for placement, rental and on-going cleaning services. If port-a-potties were placed in all 60 developed neighborhood parks, the total rental and servicing cost would be approximately $264,000 annually*.

This figure does not include “extra-call out for service” at $150.00 per call for vandalism or unit replacement.
*Based on one ADA unit per park, $150.00 per month

2. Because only one unit will be placed at each park, the unit is required to be an ADA unit. These large units often provide ideal locations for overnight transient stops or illegal and nuisance behavior.

3. Cost to lock up port-a-potties at night. Per experience, in City of Vancouver and at other cities, these generally need to be locked at night, to avoid supply theft/vandalism. The cost for this service is not included in the above fees.

4. Staff has, when port-a-potties are locked, experienced a few port-a-potty “vigilantes” who have cut locks or vandalized in protest on them being in the parks. These acts can (and have) included: tipping over units, burning units or jumping on units. If the company needs to come out to fix and repair a unit, a call-back charge is added to the monthly rental, or sometimes unit replacement costs are applied.

5. These units often smell and the smell can spread to the surrounding area. Hence, port-a-potties are sometimes not welcome near residential housing.

Based on Hannon’s memo, don’t cross your fingers hoping the city will decide to install a portable toilet in every neighborhood park. Or should I say cross your legs?

Stephanie Rice

I have worked at The Columbian since 1996. I covered the criminal justice system for 10 years and currently cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at stephanie.rice@columbian.com or 360-735-4508.

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