Astoria to try toilets by the river

The Astoria public restrooms on Exchange Street. The city plans to add three new portable toilets near the Astoria Riverwalk after complaints about the homeless.

Disturbing reports of public urination and defecation by the homeless have prompted the Astoria City Council to experiment with three new portable toilets near the Astoria Riverwalk.

Two portable toilets will go in at People’s Park at 16th Street and Marine Drive and one portable toilet will be installed at Ninth and Astor streets. The new toilets, which will be cleaned twice a week by a private vendor, will cost the city $5,395 a year from the Promote Astoria tourism fund.

Some tourists and locals who use the Riverwalk have groused about the lack of public restrooms, but the issue was driven by persistent complaints over the summer from downtown merchants and others about the homeless.

Installing portable toilets was a recommendation from a city task force responding to the growing homeless population.

Astoria Police Chief Brad Johnston, who is also the assistant city manager and serves on the homeless task force, said the number of calls the city has been getting about public defecation, in particular, is “alarming.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Public restrooms are available at the Sunset Empire Transportation District and near 12th and Exchange streets. The new portable toilets would add options closer to the Riverwalk.

Johnston said the city could eventually opt for a permanent solution through the more expensive Portland Loo, the durable, stainless-steel toilet kiosks in Portland that are resistant to graffiti and other vandalism. The city Parks and Recreation Department has struggled to counter repeated damage to the public restrooms downtown, at the Doughboy Monument to World War I soldiers and at Tapiola Park.

City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill asked how the city would measure whether the portable toilets are effective at solving the problem. She shared anecdotal reports of public urination and defecation near restaurants even though there were restrooms nearby.

“What we hope to see — and this won’t be evident probably until end of next summer — is that the kind of behaviors we’re seeing this summer go away,” Johnston said. “And it will take time to determine whether that’s true or not.”

City Councilor Drew Herzig, who serves on the homeless task force, said before the unanimous vote Monday night to support the portable toilets that “if we are asking people to change behaviors, but not providing the means to change that behavior,” then “it’s a fool’s errand kind of thing.”

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