A campaign to save water in West Hollywood suddenly has City Hall flushed with excitement.
Officials today plan to announce a six-month test of waterless urinals at municipal offices and at the city's main public park as part of a conservation effort.
But installation of the devices at City Hall has already prompted complaints about alleged odors and sanitation problems.
Two of the touch-free, water-free urinals are in place near city executives' offices. Three others have been installed in a men's room at Plummer Park.
"The smell really hits you. You're standing there, and all of a sudden it's like someone threw an ammonia odor in your face," said City Councilman Steve Martin.
"It seems like the majority of employees have expressed displeasure or outright hostility about them at City Hall. In our race for political correctness, I think we should use common sense."
Councilman Jeffrey Prang disagrees. He has helped arrange for today's public unveiling of the new urinals at 9:30 a.m. at Plummer Park. Conservationists from Heal the Bay and a group dedicated to restoring Mono Lake have been invited, along with other politicians.
"This is something that's truly on the cutting edge. It's a solid technology that merits a test," Prang said.
The $250 urinals are produced by Falcon Waterfree Technologies of Los Angeles. The company says a flushless urinal can save about 40,000 gallons of water a year.
The waste goes into a specially sealed chamber at the bottom that periodically empties into the regular drain and sewer systems.
The company touts the urinals as odor-free.
That claim stinks, contend some in West Hollywood who have used them.
"They leave a smell. And they leave a residue," said Tom Benedetti, a city code enforcement officer who this week was named West Hollywood's employee of the quarter. "It doesn't seem all that sanitary. I'm not the only one who feels that way. I don't know anyone in this building who likes it."
At Plummer Park, the restroom equipped with the new urinals was closed Wednesday as parts of Long Hall were repainted before today's ceremony.
But park workers said they have detected a stench.
"We don't even go in there at night [because] it's so bad. We just lock the doors," said park employee James Ragovoy.
Park visitor J.W. Dillon, a 66-year-old retired engineer, said he smelled nothing when he used one earlier this week, however. "I didn't even know they were waterless until you told me. I just thought they automatically flushed," he said.
At City Hall, there was no odor but a urine residue stained one of the new urinals Wednesday. Falcon officials said that's no big deal.
"They get cleaned just like a regular urinal would at night," said Jeremy Bernard, public relations director for the firm.
He blamed the park restroom stench on a "preexisting odor."
The debate caused one city worker to ponder how today's urinal dedication should be handled.
"Do we christen them with a bottle of champagne? Or Lysol?" he joked.