A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Council allows portable toilet to remain

Written March 23rd, 2022 by Hasso Hering

The portable toilet outside First Christian Church downtown, photographed last week.

First Christian Church in downtown Albany can keep the portable toilet it set up for homeless people in 2019, the city council decided Wednesday.

The council voted 5-1 to extend the church’s permit for the portapotty for another year. Councilwoman Marilyn Smith voted no.

The council granted that permit in 2020 under a provision of the city code that appeared to provide for one-year permits for such facilities. Since then, the city staff discovered that the code language was not intended to allow this, so the issue was back before the council Wednesday.

The gist of the issue is that Albany has a public sewer system and requires people with houses or other buildings to connect to it, and if portable toilets are routinely allowed, owners might go that route instead to avoid the expense of a sewer hookup.

“This is not the Wild West,” Smith said. “We don’t need portable toilets popping up everywhere. I don’t want Albany full of portapotties.”

Councilman Dick Olsen put his finger on the issue immediately at hand. What about people without houses, living on the street or in tents, he asked.

Homeless people are the reason for the portable outside the back corner of First Christian on Washington Street. The church put it up and takes care of it because one evening a week it hands out sack meals to homeless people.

A couple of years ago the city decided to build a permanent public restroom at Albany Station, the train depot. Olsen wanted to know when that might be accomplished. Maybe this summer or fall, Public Works Director Chris Bailey told him.

The council directed the staff to come back with a proposed change in the city code that would allow portables under certain circumstances.

What circumstances? Councilwoman Matilda Novak mentioned two: a large plant nursery where someone elderly often works far away from the restroom in the main building, and a coffee kiosk in a parking lot that opens long before the main store on the lot and its restroom are open.

When will the suggested code revision come back for council action? No one gave a date. (hh)

8 responses to “Council allows portable toilet to remain”

  1. John Hartman says:

    This entire discussion, which seems destined to go on and on, is the Poster Child for the tired adage – “The best government is that which governs least..” This dictum is portrayed in the actions of our City Mothers and Fathers, clearly demonstrating that the Council cares deeply about its citizens … if they have a home, but otherwise…not so much.

    It’s all right here in Hering’s explanation of past Council actions failing to launch because the affected constituency doesn’t represent many votes, electoral currency Councilors cherish most.

    Hasso writes (with stinging accuracy). “A couple of years ago the city decided to build a permanent public restroom at Albany Station, the train depot. Olsen wanted to know when that might be accomplished. Maybe this summer or fall, Public Works Director Chris Bailey told him.”

    Maybe this summer or fall? That tepid phrasing is what one would call a definite maybe. And the reason why Public Works is dragging its feet this past “couple of years.” One could easily deduce there’s no City Council stomach for actually helping the Homeless.

    Since there’s already a decent bathroom facility in the Depot, what’s holding the Council up is that the Council cannot fathom hordes of homeless utilizing a Depot Bathroom facility. That would be unseemly. The easier “solution” is simply to carve out an exception for First Christian Church, allowing the Cool Blue Porta-Potty to remain in place, burying the problem.

    Interestingly, one City Councilor didn’t even wish to extend the Porta-Potty option to the homeless, preferring the Great Unwashed do their business out of sight, at night perhaps, so that the genteel citizens of Albany are not forced in any way to seriously examine the problem of homelessness. Heaven forbid. This one City Councilor doesn’t even believe the Faith-based community should be in the business of bathrooms.

    Governing least seems the Albany Council’s best go-to move. The exception being the shower of CARA cash that’s cleansed the formerly vagrant downtown. Oh…that’s right…downtown Business Association members have toilets in the back…they are far worthier than anyone imagined.

    • Abe Cee says:

      Perhaps the Faith-based community centers should open their existing restrooms to the homeless rather than add an outside portapotty that way they are using the existing sewer connection(s)?

      Better yet, the city could remodel the empty/old/derelict buildings they own in the downtown area to provide shelter for the homeless and restroom facilities, that presumably are connected to the sewer system.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    “This is not the Wild West,” Smith said. “We don’t need portable toilets popping up everywhere. I don’t want Albany full of portapotties.”

    I’d like to thank Councilor Marilyn Smith for providing a good example of a logical fallacy.

    Hers is a slippery slope argument. She posits that this one porta potty will lead to an Albany “full of portapotties.” A ridiculous outcome.

    We expect this kind of nonsense from teenagers, not city councilors.

  3. MarK says:

    I’ve often seen service people (lawn care, construction, etc.) use the one at a local park. Just think about it for a minute, what else do you expect them to do throughout the day while working?
    Let’s just hope people use them, instead of the ground.

  4. James Engel says:

    Beats doing “I’m shaking it here boss” in the bushes. (Cool Hand Luke). Maybe if we stopped feeding them there might be less of reason to have these items. Now, IF the council really cared there be a “blue closet” by the front entry to City Hall. What happened to the public rest room by the former City Hall @ 2nd & Broadalbin??

  5. centrist says:

    JH has a strong point of view, but it is founded on an ability to read minds
    Slightly off-topic — none of the houses in my neighborhood are connected to Albany sewage treatment. All are on septic tanks. Target date for connection is NEVER.
    Lesson is that rulemakers must be careful what they write because there just might be an exception already acceptedno

  6. Bob Woods says:

    My neighborhood has continual home construction going on, which necessitates porta-potties. When the homeless were around they used them, and used needles were found in and outside of them.

    I’m guessing the Church doesn’t want to let them use indoor facilities, because they’d have to keep it staffed 24-7.

    So we get down to the basic issue: The homeless need housing. Real housing. Find a way to do that. Some of them will still shoot up, but it won’t be in public porta-potties.

    • Rich Kellum says:

      You are correct Bob, the Church does not want them inside, I explained how they could achieve that with a couple of doors and changing inside doors to exterior but I think that they have correctly surmised that the homeless would trash the bathroom……. Ironically, they want to attract the homeless, and then foist them off on their neighbors, that, as I remember did not want the attracted folks hanging around…….


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