Portland, Oregon, gives up on marketing public toilets, will settle for royalties

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PORTLAND, Ore. – The city of Portland will quit marketing the solar-powered outdoor potties its workers developed and will settle instead for a cut of the business.

Six years ago, the city installed the first of the stainless steel public toilets dubbed the Portland Loo. It now has seven and hopes to install six more in parks.

The city also thought to make a business of marketing the toilets, at $90,000 each. It has sold four, with five more orders in the works.

The toilets were initially placed in areas where homeless people congregate. They were open 24/7, and they featured slats that allowed police to detect illegal activity — such as more than one pair of feet at a time — but protect privacy.

Critics, though, said the Loo and other projects were outside the core mission of the city utilities and contributed to rising rates. A judge found the city misspent $618,000 of Water Bureau funds on Loo efforts.

A ballot measure intended to wrest control of the utilities from the Council and give it to an independently elected board failed. But sentiment was widespread that the spending ought to be reined in.

The city has now agreed to allow the toilet’s manufacturer to set the price and market the toilets, giving the city a royalty, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/UNZYfE) reported.

The deal relieves the city of the expense of the business. It has spent at least $60,000 a year on workers in the Loo effort.

It also caps the city’s revenue prospects should sales take off.

For example, the city made about $23,000 per unit on three of its sales. By contrast, the 8 per cent royalty would fetch the city $7,200 per Loo, assuming manufacturer Madden Fabrication gets $90,000 per unit.

The Loo was the brainchild of Randy Leonard, a former City Council member who ran the Water Bureau under Portland’s system of divvying municipal administrative duties among the five Council members.

The current head of the Water and Sewer bureaus, Councilmember Nick Fish, is intent on focusing their efforts on core responsibilities, a spokesman said.

“The commissioner felt that it was important that this business move over to the private sector in a deal which provides a royalty to the city,” said Fish’s policy director, Jim Blackwood.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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