The effort to save San Francisco’s dwindling laundromats

New legislation proposed by San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin on Tuesday aims to prevent the closure of laundromats, which Peskin...

New legislation proposed by San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin on Tuesday aims to prevent the closure of laundromats, which Peskin says have significantly dwindled in the city in the last decade.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Peskin said the closure of laundromats, which serve mostly low-income people who live in densely populated neighborhoods, “is without a doubt a social and racial equity issue.”

Citing data from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, one in three laundromats in the city have closed their doors within the last decade, with just 204 laundromats remaining, compared to 288 in 2013.

“It’s an issue that impacts seniors and people with disabilities and everybody in the neighborhood who doesn’t have access to an onsite washer and dryer,” he said. “The precipitous drop in the number of laundromats in the city is something we should take note of and be concerned about.”

Under the proposed legislation, in order for another business to take over a laundromat or dry-cleaning service, the city’s Planning Commission would first be required to hold a public hearing to determine whether replacing the laundromat with another use is necessary and desirable.

The legislation would also require landlords to replace washers and dryers within residential buildings if they’ve been removed for the construction of an accessory dwelling unit.

According to Peskin, his office has been working on the proposed legislation for a year and found that neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, Lower Nob Hill, the Mission District, and Chinatown have some of highest concentration of laundromats in the city.

“Laundromats are a profitable business, but that doesn’t mean they can always compete for rents with higher revenue businesses and tourist-oriented businesses, so of course we become targets for landlord speculation,” said Deanna Caprini-Fusch, owner of laundromat Tons of Bubbles. Tons of Bubbles has three locations throughout the city.

“My patrons reside in neighborhoods where having key services in walking distance is necessary to their day-to-day lives. A laundromat falls into this need,” she said.

Planning Commissioner Deland Chan is backing the proposed legislation.

“From a citywide perspective, laundromats tend to be concentrated in multi-unit, multi-family buildings, and they disproportionately serve communities of color,” she said. “This is a needs-based service and part of our city’s social infrastructure.”

Peskin’s office is anticipating holding a hearing on the matter at the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee sometime in September.

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