Is Portland Flushing Its Money Away?

In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be writing about the City of Portland designing and patenting a solar powered public toilet, not to mention their actually trying to market it.

You may remember that Seattle bought several one-million-dollar public toilets. When they became a haven for drugs and prostitution, Seattle sold them for about $12,000 each, abandoning the project.

Portland thinks it has that problem licked. Introducing: the “Portland Loo.” It looks like a space-age tin can and is designed to discourage illicit activities with open louvers on the bottom. They even have a name for that: “CPTED,” or “crime prevention through environmental design.” The $140,000 prototype will be unveiled on Northwest Glisan near Fifth Avenue on December 8.

Councilman Randy Leonard worked on the design, and the Water Bureau (which he oversees) is applying for a patent. One would have to ask if this is could be a conflict of interest down the road, should he no longer work for the city.

Granted, Portland needs more public restrooms, but at what cost to taxpayers? If the Portland Loo is successful, the Water Bureau will market it for $25,000 each. Will this be a new business for the city with a staff and sales people? What will that cost?

Should a city that has $5.4 billion in long-term debt be designing and selling toilets? Will Portland be trading in its “City of Roses” title for “Looland?”

Jeff Alan is Chief Investigator at Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan free market research center based in Portland, Oregon.