San Diego “Portland Loo” project to be delayed longer than expected -project suggested to City Council by Girls Think Tank over a year ago still has not seen the light of day
by Lara McCaffrey / Empower San Diego / Originally posted Dec 21, 2011
San Diego, CA. With the end of the fiscal year approaching fast in June, there is only so much time to change the budget conversation in San Diego. Like Empower San Diego, fellow non-profit Girls Think Tank (GTT) has taken steps to convince the City Council to use valuable tax-payer funds for projects that benefit the less fortunate. GTT has been working for nearly 2 years to get the City to install 24 hour access public restrooms as a part of their Basic Dignity Campaign for San Diego’s homeless.
The group thought they had succeeded when $700,000 was earmarked to install two so-called “Portland Loos” in downtown San Diego. Unfortunately, the project has been delayed for a year with little apparent reason. The homeless of San Diego that so desperately need access to clean water and restrooms have not seen the results due to complications in San Diego redevelopment. However, the issue was already being ‘slow walked’ before redevelopment was in jeopardy. Proponents question what the City was doing with the approved money in the 16 months after the project was approved since redevelopment has only been in question since August of 2011.
GTT first proposed the loos in early 2010 to City Councilmember Marti Emerald of District 7. Compared to the $200,000 spent to maintain two 24 hour public restrooms in Civic Center and the Gaslamp Quarter, the Portland Loo only costs $24,000 a year to maintain. In addition, these stand-alone restrooms are also very eco-friendly with their solar panels and low flow toilet, are graffiti proof and louvers that make it easy for police to monitor them without invading privacy. With encouragement from Councilmember Emerald, the City Council approved the plan to install one loo on 14th and L Street next to Tailgate Park and one on 11th and Market Street near a dog park.The cost of maintaining the Market Street loo would have been covered by the owners of the dog park and the other by the Downtown San Diego Partnership under a one year pilot program.
However, the loos may not get their first flush till the state Supreme Court makes a decision about the future of redevelopment. In August of 2011, a lawsuit challenging the state’s overhaul of local redevelopment put the Portland Loo project into further jeopardy. Legislation that required cities to dissolve their redevelopment agencies or make annual payments to the state in order to go through with redevelopment has been challenged. Thus, redevelopment activity will have to wait until the outcome of the suit is decided on January 15th of 2012.
On Saturday, November 19th of this year, GTT held a press and community conference in the very park that a Portland Loo was promised and demanded that the City Council address the ongoing lack of clean water and restrooms for the homeless of downtown San Diego as “a public health issue and human rights issue” and find other sources for funding the project. Noor Kazmi, president of Girls Think Tank believed holding the event on World Toilet Day brought attention to the need for clean water and restroom facilities for all. The conference concluded with a march around the transit center. Kazmi promised that the next GTT event like this one would be “more coordinated and more over the top.”
The future of Portland Loos remains uncertain as setbacks in redevelopment are a barrier to their installation. However, it is certain that the city had been delaying the project even before redevelopment became an issue. For now, we can take comfort in organizations like the Girls Think Tank looking out for homeless persons’ livelihood when the city will not.
Lara McCaffrey is the Community Action Reporter, EMPOWERStudents!