A Pot to Piss In

NOTE (December 2015): Please read this retraction to provide context to this post. We remain right about many of the issues discussed, but we were dead wrong about the BID’s opposition to public toilets. They support them.

A public urinal in Paris, France c. 1865
A public urinal in Paris, France c. 1865
The Hollywood Property Owners Alliance is really, really, really opposed to people pissing on the streets of Hollywood. They’re so opposed that in 2013 they spent over $132,000 to combat it, at approximately $1500 per pissing incident.1 Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. It’s safe to assume that the HPOA BIDs have their hearts dead set against public pissing.

But why are all these people pissing in the streets?

Well, there aren’t many public free restrooms in the BID. The only one we know of is in the Goldwyn Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The library has limited hours, and it’s not especially centrally located in the BID. If you’re homeless and don’t have a couple bucks to buy something at Jack in the Box so you can use their toilet, this is where you go.

A Sanisette toilet in Paris c. 2009
A Sanisette toilet in Paris c. 2009: Vous avez parcouru un long chemin, bébé!

It’s well known that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We really have to wonder why the BID doesn’t arrange for self-cleaning free public toilets on the streets of Hollywood, for instance, the Sanisette, found by the hundreds in Paris, London, Singapore, Athens, and other major world cities. At first we assumed they’d be too expensive, but it turns out they’re free, or at least paid for by advertising revenues. As far as we can see the BID isn’t pushing for these to be installed in Hollywood (even tourists could use these). Why?
Farmers Market patrons don't have to piss in the public streets because someone provides restrooms for them.
Farmers Market patrons don’t have to piss in the public streets because someone provides restrooms for them and they’re super-cute, too!.

There’s no way to know for sure. It would be uncharitable to assume that the BID actually likes arresting people, but we can only think of one other explanation: that BID members haven’t thought empathetically about toilet use.

We therefore propose the following exercise, which will give moral authority to those who do have a pot to piss in when they exercise power over those who do not: Pretend you have 2000 calories per day.2 It’s possible to buy this for about $5, or $1 per 400 calories.3 Every time you have to use the bathroom, make a choice between walking one mile (you have to actually do it)4 and spending $1 on 400 calories to use the toilet in a fast-food place. If you run out of money (5 trips to the bathroom without walking) and get tired of walking a mile each time you have to go, pretend you get arrested, hauled downtown, cited out, have to deal with court dates, probation officers, etc. Now do this for six months straight.5 Do you still think it’s worth $1500 a pop to arrest people for pissing in the street? Well, if you’ve done the exercise at least your opinion is credible. Otherwise it really, really isn’t.

  1. See p.9 of Steve Seyler’s final 2013 report to the Joint Security Committee, in which we find that the BID patrol arrested about 85 people for public urination out of about 1026 arrests. This is about 8.3% of their arrests, funded from a 2013 security budget of about 1.6 million, making about $132,553.61 for public urination enforcement total, or $1559.45 per public urination arrest. Note that there are externalities associated with these arrests that we’re not done analyzing, so the $1500 figure is merely cost per pissing arrest to the BID. The people of Los Angeles pay quite a bit more than that.
  2. Roughly what it takes to sustain life for an average sized person.
  3. It may not be possible to do this without a kitchen. E.g. two cheeseburgers at McDonalds cost about $3 and contain 600 calories whereas a can of refried beans (400 calories) is 89¢ at Trader Joe’s, but you need a way to heat it.
  4. We’re assuming that this is the average distance to the library from a random point in the two BIDs covered by Steve Seyler’s forces. It’s probably too low, but the exact calculation is prohibitive.
  5. The average duration of homelessness in a selection of American cities.

Image of public urinal by Charles Marville, in public domain due to age, obtained by courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation and available in bigger sizes here. Image of Sanisette released by its author under the CC BY 3.0 license and obtained by courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation here. Image of Hollywood Farmers Market Toilets ©2014 MichaelKohlhaas.org.

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