Susan Ornelas: Achieving Public Toiletude – June 29, 2010

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mayor Susan Ornelas

Special to the Eye

ARCATA – There is an issue that has come up in the past, but has never been satisfactorily solved. Public toilets –people are talking about them. There is an understandable need for a public toilet. Society has wrangled with this need for a thousand years or so – OK, not in Arcata – but in civilization. A civil society should have a public toilet – many people think so.

Particularly people who have traveled overseas. They see a third world country being able to offer a public toilet and ask – why not at home? Why not in Arcata? Many public toilets overseas cost a small token to a caretaker, who sees to the cleanliness of the room. It is not a well-paid job.

I have heard of public toilets in Paris – often they cost from one-half to one Euro to use ($0.70 to $1.40), give the user 20 minutes, then the toilets clean themselves. Without someone watching them, they often go out of service. At times, all they need is more paper.

There are other interesting automated toilets – one being by the company Exeloo. The City looked into these in 2006 – particularly the models Orion and Galaxy. They include anti-loitering, anti-vandalism and automated cleaning features.

Their 2006 costs were between $160,000 to 225,000 to install, plus $23,000/year for a service and maintenance cost – with a three-year agreement with the company to handle everything (service, maintenance, consumables).

How can we provide a public toilet in Arcata, successfully?

Arcata has been through this discussion, and some feel we have been through it and out the backside, so to speak. Recently, Councilmember Alex Stillman stated that if the council wants to discuss public toilets, can we schedule it for Oct. 5 – when she is out of town?

City staff reminds me we had a public toilet at the bus transfer station and it was a disaster. We learned a public toilet must be watched, someone has to care for it, like they do in third world countries.

It has been suggested that maybe an entrepreneur could open a toilet, but it is hard for me to believe a private enterprise in the number one and two business can really be economically sustained, on its own. I think it needs some public investment, and, can I suggest, ongoing public support.

The City Council has not recently had a discussion about public toilets, and there is currently no direction to staff regarding this issue.

I am proposing my opinions in this column as a private citizen, not as the mayor or even as a councilmember. The following thoughts are my own musings.

So here is a suggestion I have – how about a three-way support system? Strong, like a three-legged stool. Maybe the Co-op, the City and the public can be partners?

Here’s how I imagine it could go – the City provides funding through CDBG*, or redevelopment funds, to build a nice public toilet at the Co-op. Maybe it is automated? It needs to be associated with a business, so someone can oversee the cleanliness, and I suggest the Co-op as they have shown an interest and are close to the Plaza.

But the Co-op should not bear the full cost of the toilet maintenance – this is where the public can come in. I suggest every Arcata household pay $5 per year on their wastewater bill to contribute to the public toilet. I understand this would need to be approved by the voters, but for this discussion I will assume voters approve it.

Five dollars, multiplied by 7,000 households is $35,000. This could be a supplement to salaries for two jobs at the Co-op.

This is not a gift of public funds, but a public–private partnership. There are public–private partnerships to deliver public toilet services in Italy, why not Arcata?

As a community, we can discuss this issue through the paper. Maybe some good ideas can be discussed, vetted and explored. This information could be fodder for the Council when we take up this discussion – maybe on Oct. 5?

* CDBG – Community Development Block Grants is a federal program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of community development needs.