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City Council Approves $90k Loo For Downtown

The lack of public restrooms in downtown San Antonio has long been a problem for residents and tourists. Now City Council has approved paying $90,000 for a single toilet that will be located somewhere in the downtown area. The Portland Loo is getting a trial run in San Antonio.  

As Annie said in the musical, when you gotta go, you gotta go. But what happens when there is nowhere to go? This is an issue people face in downtown San Antonio every day, and the reason Councilman Roberto Trevino spearheaded the effort to get the Portland Loo approved.

"We can see downtown, there’s areas where people have urinated on the sidewalks, on the sides of buildings. This is why people are saying they wish there was more public restroom availability," he said.

Trevino says a lack of public restrooms has an adverse effect on tourism.

"More and more people are visiting us. We’re the No. 1 destination in Texas. If you go to, let’s say, the Alamo, you’d be hard-pressed to know where the public restroom is, and yet it is the No. 1 attraction in the state of Texas," Trevino said.

According to Trevino, the Portland Loo is not just any restroom. It’s about the size of a parking space, made of metal, designed to last and requires little maintenance. The city currently maintains only six public restrooms downtown and all are locked at certain hours for safety reasons. Trevino says the Loo, which will be open 24/7, is built to tackle the needs of security.

"It’s designed to not stand out too much, to be a bit inconspicuous. You can know someone’s in there without disrupting their privacy. You can know there’s multiple people in there because you can see how many feet are in there," he said.

Tourists and residents of San Antonio have noticed the lack of restrooms. Lydia Viada is visiting San Antonio from New York. She’s been using restrooms in restaurants.

"We really went on the River Walk and a few places, but no, no public restrooms, no," Viada said.

Ricky Coronado has lived in San Antonio his whole life. He says something needs to be done.

"There’s only so many for so much people here, for a tourist city, especially, and a growing city. At a lot of events going on downtown there’s lines. People wait. If it’s an emergency, I’ll walk into restaurants," Coronado said.

Councilman Mike Gallagher, who also supports purchasing the Portland Loo, says it may be a first step in addressing the city’s lack of public restrooms.

"We have to consider this an investment because we do want to make sure that people that visit downtown San Antonio are comfortable, and that they know that the place is sanitary and I think that this can help do that," he said.

But a single toilet at a cost of more than $90,000?  Trevino and Gallagher defend the cost saying it will save the city money over time because it’s built to last longer than standard restrooms and because of low maintenance costs. And they hope it won’t be too long before there are enough public restrooms in San Antonio, so that when you gotta go, you’ll be able to. 

Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.