Anchorage Assembly set to vote on $9M public bathroom bond proposition

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday is set to consider whether to send to voters a $9 million bond proposition for the purchase and installation of at least 18 or more modular-style public bathrooms.

The bathrooms would likely be Portland Loos, from Oregon-based company Madden Fabrication.

The proposal would also ask voters in the upcoming April 2 election whether to increase the tax cap by $540,000 to pay for yearly maintenance costs. If approved, the bond would increase property taxes by $1.83 per $100,000 in assessed value and about $1.43 per $100,000 in assessed value for the annual operation and maintenance costs.

Assembly members last month had postponed the decision on whether to send the project to voters after multiple members raised questions and concerns over the costs, winter weatherization of public facilities and potential impacts to public safety as Anchorage struggles to address homelessness.

Anchorage currently has few public restrooms, posing a problem for tourists, city residents and people using the city’s extensive park and trail system, say the Assembly members sponsoring the ballot proposition — Assembly Chair Christopher Constant, Vice Chair Meg Zaletel and member Anna Brawley. The burden often falls on private businesses.

Assembly members at a Friday meeting discussed the pros and cons of the proposed project, the feasibility of using the heavy-duty restrooms in Anchorage’s cold weather and how they’ve worked in other cities. Evan Madden, a representative of Madden Fabrication, participated in the meeting to answer questions.

The company worked with a Portland city committee to design the Portland Loos — shortly after a 2004 Seattle automated public restroom project failed, and Seattle in 2008 sold the five toilets it had spent $5 million on for less than $13,000 each, Madden said.


“The complete privacy of those restrooms allowed drug use and prostitution to flourish,” Madden said.

With similar potential problems, the Portland Loos were designed, implemented, studied and improved further, he said.

“It was a restroom built by a committee with people really concerned for making sure it was clean and easy to maintain, as well as making sure that cost was kept low as possible,” he said.

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The interior components, from the hardware to the toilets, is “durable, prison-grade material,” he said.

Design features of the Portland Loos include:

• Angled slats at the bottom and top, which allow them to be visually inspected with ease but maintain privacy at the toilet level.

“You can even be in a 10-story condo looking down and still have that complete privacy there,” Madden said. The slats also make the restroom an uncomfortable place to be, encouraging people to get in and out quickly, he said.

• An anti-graffiti powder coating, so permanent marker and spray paint can be cleaned from the restroom surfaces.

• The toilets can be used in temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees, according to Madden. They have a heated copper line that continuously runs a mixture of antifreeze and hot water.

• They can include blue lights, which would help keep people from using drug needles inside the restrooms.

Madden said the company has installed the restrooms in numerous cities, including cold-weather towns like Boston, Cambridge and in Smithers and Nelson in British Columbia. The restrooms have also been installed in Ketchikan and Kodiak, Brawley said.

Assembly member Kevin Cross asked Madden whether the facilities in Portland have drawn homeless residents and “unsavory elements” to congregate nearby.

According to Madden, that hasn’t been a problem at most of the Portland facilities, largely because of their unfriendly design and because sites for the restrooms were also chosen strategically. High-traffic areas close to transit and pedestrians, without much open space for congregating or camping, are best, he said.

The Assembly has already set aside funding to survey and study potential sites for the modular restrooms, Zaletel said. A study would run concurrently to the election, so that if voters approve the measure, the city will have site data ready.

The first version of the proposal called for a $12 million bond, but the new version calls for a smaller capital project bond plus the tax cap increase, to account for yearly costs.

The total cost for the purchase and installation of each would vary by location, costing less in areas with ready access to sewer, electric and water utilities. At the very least, the bond would pay for 18 Portland Loos, which would be about $500,000 each, though the intent is to aim for up to 30 restrooms with the $9 million bond, Constant said.


Some Assembly members raised concerns over the project costs.

“I support the idea of putting this before the voters. But there’s this idea, I’m looking at this, like, we’re putting in a toilet that costs more than my house. I just want to feel confident that that’s not what we’re actually signing up for,” Assembly member Zac Johnson said.

There are monetary costs to not having many public restrooms in Anchorage, and they’re already building up, Brawley and Constant said.

The city already pays for several port-a-potties at parks around town, and at homeless encampments over the summer.

And those plastic restrooms don’t hold up to public use, Constant said.

“We’re at risk of losing those contracts, because those plastic facilities are too subject to damage that the vendors are getting to the point where they’re like, ‘Well, the Muni is not a great customer.‘ Or, we’re going to end up buying, for roughly a similar amount, a number of plastic portables for a contractor to serve anyhow. So the numbers are very high,” Constant said.

The portable toilets in Anchorage cost the city more than $450,000 in 2023 — similar to the maintenance cost the project would require, Constant said.

The other factor is “the unmitigated human waste in the corners of our buildings, parking garages, creek beds and our parks — all over. And so, what’s our plan for that? That’s a cost factor,” Constant said.


“We have a duty to manage our human waste,” he added.

The first version of the proposal called for a $12 million bond, but the new version calls for a smaller bond with the tax cap increase in order to account for an estimated yearly upkeep cost of $30,000 per restroom. That’s a reduction from previous maintenance estimates of $50,000.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at