Three of the five 24-hour public restrooms that were part of the city’s pilot program to increase restroom access in downtown Olympia have closed or will soon due to misuse.
The city’s Land Use and Environment Committee recommended the portable restroom on Olympia Avenue at Franklin Street across from the Olympia Transit Center be removed and that the permanent restroom on the west side of Percival Landing, which closed in January, reopen from dawn to dusk only.
The City Council approved the change at its meeting Tuesday.
“It’s not that we’re done having public restrooms downtown, it’s that that was our first draft,” said Clark Gilman, a member of the City Council who also leads the land use committee.
The city had faced pressure to open more restrooms in order to reduce human waste in downtown. The pilot program, which started in 2016, included five 24-hour public restrooms and a team of workers to pick up human waste from downtown alleys, alcoves and doorways on a daily basis.
But a report by city staff on the Percival Landing and Olympia Avenue restrooms said they were not sufficiently designed for 24-hour permanent use. There was “regularly recorded misuse” of the restrooms including drug dealing and drug use, prostitution, graffiti and vandalism. On an almost daily basis there was trash, vomit, feces, spit and blood despite regular cleaning.
The Percival Landing restroom was closed more than 60 days for maintenance since it opened last summer. It averaged about 30 flushes a day, according to the city, compared with more than 100 a day at the permanent restroom installed in August at the Artesian Commons.
In the fall, the city removed a portable restroom it had put outside the Fertile Ground Guesthouse at Adams Street and Ninth Avenue after trash and damage left the toilet unusable. In a letter to the city, the president of the Friends of the Commons at Fertile Ground called it a “failed experiment.”
Of the five 24-hour restrooms in the pilot program, two are still open: a portable restroom near the Salvation Army on Plum Street and the Artesian Commons restroom.
The city is now working on a sanitation master plan that will include recommendations on where to add more public restrooms and how they should be managed.