In Defense of San Antonio's $100,000 Toilet

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YOUTUBE VIA JUSTIN RENTERIA
  • YouTube via Justin Renteria
It's been nearly a year since a shiny, single-stall bathroom appeared on a busy intersection in downtown San Antonio — and the public promptly lost their shit. The bathroom's hefty price tag from Portland-based manufacturer struck immediate outrage from community members, and drew headlines like "This Texas city spent nearly $100,000 on a single public toilet" and "$100,000 'loo' puts load on taxpayers." The upset even earned the loo a satirical spot in this years' Cornyation.

According to the city, there have been 40,000 flushes in the local loo's first 11 months in use — or, an average of 120 users a day. But how can we really measure its success (or failure)?

It's hard to quantify the worth of giving a human being the dignity of accessing a bathroom. There's no easy way to calculate how many fewer people are using downtown business' private bathrooms, or peeing in public parks, or defecating along the Riverwalk.

There's also no reliable way to track how many fewer homeless people (especially women) are being sexually assaulted or having their few possessions stolen while trying to find a safe place to go to the bathroom. It's impossible to know if the loo's bells and whistles — blueish lighting meant to make it difficult to see veins and slatted windows allowing officers to peek in — has really deterred intravenous drug use in the stall or if they have kept people from overstaying their welcome.

But from the data the city has been able to collect, it seems the pricey stall is paying off.

San Antonio Police Department officers issued 104 citations for public urination in the ten months prior to the loo opening, according to records obtained by the local Fox affiliate. Ten months after its July installation, and that number's been cut in half — officers have only handed out 51 citations. In an interview with Fox, SAPD spokesperson Sgt. Jesse Salame linked this significant drop to the new bathroom and said that businesses have noted a clear difference in the amount of human waste left near their downtown doorsteps.

Centro maintenance staffers — the other uniformed crew with a constant downtown presence — have also noticed a welcome dip in the amount of urine or poop they run across at work.

In the past eight months, Centro employees have reported a 27 percent decrease in what Centro CEO Pat DiGiovanni politely calls "cleaning efforts related to human waste" compared to the same 8-month period last year.

"The statistics show that [the loo's] making a positive impact on the downtown experience," DiGiovanni told the Current. "The cost to the city would be much greater if people didn't perceive downtown to be a welcoming and clean place to visit."

Yes, a $100,000 bathroom sounds luxurious and wasteful on paper. But its tentative success in San Antonio has quieted critics and inspired other Texas cities to follow suit. On Tuesday, Galveston installed the first of five Portland Loo-branded toilets along the seawall, and Austin is testing out temporary public toilets this month — a pilot program the city's trying before committing to the Portland model.

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