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City says too many laundromats may be a problem

on September 25, 2009

If you’re waiting on that new fluff ‘n fold to open down the street in North Oakland, you’d best not hold your breath. Tuesday’s City Council Meeting curtailed the spread of the city’s many coin-operated wash-n-dries, citing threats to retail businesses in busy commercial corridors.

In an emergency ordinance declaring action necessary to “preserve the public peace, health, welfare or safety” of the community, the Oakland City Council ruled that any new self-serve laundromats will be blocked without specific permits granted by the City Planning Commission.

The new rules do not shutter existing businesses, nor do they ban new businesses from opening.  But they add a bureaucratic hurdle.  Before the rule change, coin-operated laundromats were permitted outright, without any input from the city’s zoning board. Effective immediately and lasting one year, the new ordinance requires aspiring owners of self-serve launderettes to apply for a conditional use permit from the City Planning Commission before opening their business.

Libby Schaaf, senior policy advisor for community and economic development to the City Council, said many constituents had been complaining to council members that self-serve laundromats were crowding out other types of businesses in high-traffic retail areas.

The unsupervised nature of self-serve laundromats drew special attention from the city. “Unstaffed is an issue for a number of reasons,” Schaaf said, “both for the consumer and for the prevention of nuisance activities.” She noted that the businesses’ late hours and self-serve operation had raised concern from both neighbors and nearby businesses. “There are also documented nuisance complaints where there has been drug dealing and loitering,” Schaaf said.

According to city documents, the Conditional Use Permit allows the City Planning Commission to determine if “a specific use at a certain location will be compatible with the neighborhood.” Permits cost from $2,000 to $3,000, and are commonly used to regulate a variety of business in commercial districts, including light industry, liquor stores, fast-food restaurants and parking services.

“There is no intent to be punitive with this ordinance,” said Schaaf, noting considerations of small business would be taken into account during this next planning stage. The plan, she said, is “to balance the concerns that neighboring businesses and the community have raised.”

Eric Angstadt of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA) said the one-year moratorium will give the CEDA time to study the situation and craft new permanent regulations, a process that will involved multiple workshops, community feedback, committee meetings and public comment.

“CEDA is just starting to put together a comprehensive list of laundromats in the city,” Angstadt said. “This is a temporary measure designed to prevent businesses from rushing into the market in advance of the change in zoning rules.”

The new laundromat ordinance originally included restrictions on nail salons, too.  But in a bow to public outcry at Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilmember Jean Quan moved to exempt the salons and focus instead on laundromats for now. The council directed CEDA staff to work with community groups to develop permanent regulations covering nail salons over the next year.

Quan’s chief of staff Richard Cowan said the council was not opposed to nail salons as a group, but that proper regulations should be considered. “We believe there are too many, and that they are essentially non-green,” he said, referring to the chemicals typically used in nail salons. Cowan said the $3,000 conditional use permit was too expensive for people interested in starting nail salons. “We believe the best way to respond to the situation is to work with the community on the issue,” he said.


  1. BerkReader on September 26, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Interesting article. What seems to be missing from the article and debate is quantitative information on just how many laundromats are opening that are crowding out existing businesses. It seems very surprising that the Council would take action on an emergency ordinance requiring a Conditional Use Permit without statistics on how vast of a problem this is and/or even having annecdotal stories of business owners (none are listed in this article). I would love to see a follow-up.

    Also, CEDA stands for Community and Economic Development Agency. This was correct in the first use, where the article should have used the acronym in parenthesis.

  2. johngrennan315 on September 26, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Dear Berk Reader,

    Thanks for your note about the CEDA acronym. We’ve made the correction in the text.

    Also, we’ll continue to follow the City Council’s decisions about laundromats and nail salons, and provide more data about how these businesses impact neighborhoods.

  3. Me on September 28, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Yeah riiiiight. Wouldn’t wanna squeeze out space for more Oakland Liquor Stores – which undoubtedly generate lots more sales tax revenues for the city.

  4. Mark L on October 14, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    would this be categorized under “taxing the poor”? Can’t argue that they are probably a nuisance, but this definitely targets a certain demographic

  5. […] City says too many laundromats may be a problem […]

  6. Brian B on February 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Over crouding of Laundromats is a problem in Oakland, especially on International Blvd. In the area of International and Fruitvale there are 18 Laundromats within a 1.5 mile radius, plus two more large new stores in the process of being built on International near 38th. With all these stores and the seamingly endless supply of people willing to build new ones, the city is eventualy end up like Los Angeles with a store on every corner. This will devalue the businesses and the commercial properties they are in, and ultimately reduce the city’s tax revenues from those properties.

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