Astoria’s Homelessness Solutions Task Force led to the installment of port-a-potties several years ago along the Astoria Riverwalk near Ninth and 16th streets to avoid public urination and defecation. The bathrooms have largely avoided the feared vandalism but are often avoided by tourists and taxpayers.
A bathroom task force of city, tourism and downtown leaders met with the Astoria City Council Thursday and reached a partial consensus on the most cost-effective ways to further increase availability for all, from education and public-private partnerships to a possible Portland Loo or two on the Riverwalk.
David Reid, executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, argued there are three different groups that the city is trying to serve with bathrooms: tourists, taxpayers and the homeless.
“Port-a-potties, I guess, addresses the unhoused population to an extent,” he said. “But taxpayers are not going to go in there, and visitors are not going in there.”
Much of the perceived lack of permanent bathrooms downtown is about improving signage, Reid said.
The city includes several brick-and-mortar bathroom options, some better-marked than others. They include bathrooms at the Astoria Transit Center at Ninth Street and Marine Drive; Clatsop County Courthouse at Eighth and Commercial streets; Astoria Public Library at 10th and Commercial streets; Astoria City Hall at 11th and Duane streets; the Astoria Public Restrooms near 12th and Exchange streets; and the Astoria Aquatic Center at 20th Street and Marine Drive.
Tim Williams, parks and recreation director in Astoria, said the Allen family, owners of Pier 11, offered to open the building’s bathrooms to the public in exchange for city maintenance. The waterfront business complex has seen foot traffic hurt by the ongoing street-end bridge replacement project. Mayor Bruce Jones warmed to the idea of the city covering maintenance costs in exchange for business owners opening their restrooms to the public.
“We’ll publicize it in the community as this great thing that these business owners have done for the community by making their restrooms open to the public, and let’s recruit other … we’ll call them potty partners,” he said.
Sarah Lu Heath, executive director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, said the Port of Astoria also needs to take more responsibility for the crush of tourists brought in on cruise ships. She also called on the city to increase funding for maintenance to keep existing bathrooms open longer.
The city has looked at building a new permanent bathroom along the riverwalk, focusing on a Portland Loo, a permanent, stainless steel bathroom resistant to vandalism. But the unit can cost upward of $150,000 to buy and install, plus more than $20,000 a year in maintenance.
The group on Thursday approached a consensus around the Portland Loo as a compromise between better quality than a portable bathroom but a lower expense than a brick-and-mortar building. The loos would likely be placed at the same location as the port-a-potties.
City Councilors warmed to the idea of pursuing more partnerships with private businesses, expanding maintenance of existing bathrooms and pursuing a new permanent bathroom or two along the riverwalk if funding can be found.
They talked about using Promote Astoria tourism funds and other grants to find money for a new permanent bathroom. Councilor Roger Rocka raised the possibility of federal grants for bathrooms frequented by the homeless.
Clatsop County recently passed a 1% lodging tax increase to help pay for the operations of a new jail. The city is forecast to receive about $114,000 annually from the increased taxes starting next summer, said City Manager Brett Estes, and many of the asks have been around improving the bathroom situation.