With a third of the neighborhood-serving Laundromats in San Francisco having shuttered over the past eight years, which has disproportionally impacted lower-income and older residents in buildings without in-unit or shared laundry facilities, San Francisco’s Planning Commission is slated to amend San Francisco’s Planning Code to prohibit the demolition of repurposing of existing Laundromats without Conditional Use Authorization (CUA).

In addition, the ordinance would formalize an internal Planning Department policy that disallows for the approval of any proposed Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) that would lead to a reduction in a building’s on-site laundry facilities or accessibility.

But as written, the protections are temporary and would expire after three years. From Planning:

“Requiring Conditional Use Authorizations for the change of use or removal of Laundromats is not the most effective tool to prevent their closure. While the Planning Code can prevent another use from locating in the space occupied by a Laundromat, it cannot force the Laundromat to stay open. Further, requiring extra process to remove a use could be a disincentive for a landlord to sign leases with new Laundromats.

With that said, the Department does understand that applying a Conditional Use requirement in this instance can help slow the loss of Laundromats until the City has been able to find better tools to address the problem.”

The proposed ordinance likely won’t apply to dry cleaners that don’t provide washing services and is likely to allow for the demolition or conversion of an existing Laundromat, by way of a CUA, if a comparable, ADA-accessible Laundromat exists within a quarter mile of the one that’s proposed to be removed.

A proposed eviction of the Tons of Bubbles Laundromat at 998 Filbert Street and conversion of the Russian Hill space and adjacent commercial unit into a pair of ADUs was disapproved by way of a Discretionary Review (DR) last year, a name-checked case which “spotlighted the loss of Laundromats and the need to retain them in the city.” Over 80 Laundromats have closed elsewhere in San Francisco since 2013, 60 of which were shuttered within the past five years.

20 thoughts on “Planning to Protect Neighborhood Laundromats, for Now”
  1. This seems like another overreach by the planning commission. My understanding is that one of the issues that is causing laundromats to close is that they pay increased water and sewage rates which makes them unprofitable. It may also be that there were simply too many laundromats and the recent reduction is just a resizing to fit demand.

    1. Perhaps a hot take, but there’s really no excuse for an apartment building in 2021 to not have laundry. Make it shared, use a basement utility room, something. It’s really not that difficult or expensive to provide laundry as a utility. Perhaps the city should understand that laundromats will not survive in the modern economy and should instead see what needs to be done to ensure everyone has laundry access in their building.

      1. Why would a current landlord subject to rent control and a Board of Supervisor, Mayor and Governor who can at any moment decree that tenants need not pay rent for ~2 years even consider adding any amenities?

        A landlord would need to be crazy to make that additional investment and commit to ongoing maintenance in this new world.

      2. Unfortunately its not always possible due to the particular building. I manage a 5 unit building and we have employed contractors on several occasions to review the possibility of adding a laundry, however the building itself in its narrow style simply has no space/plumbing alignment or access to create a laundry for tenants.

  2. The owner of the laundromat on Pacific Ave / Nob Hill that I go to told me that his business has fallen significantly since the beginning of the Covid pandemic and that there are no more busy times at the laundromat any more. He speculated that people have either moved away or, working from home, no longer wash their clothes as often as they once did. In the past few years three other nearby laundromats on Pacific Avenue have closed – at Taylor, at Leavenworth, and at Hyde Streets. One became an investment company, another a yoga studio called Moxie (a curious name to associate with a set of ego-deflating practices), and the other storefront is still unoccupied (supposedly the rent had been raised to the degree that a laundromat business would no longer be viable).

    1. These investment companies can go rent space in the empty tower blocks downtown… There is no reason for them to rip out a laundromat so they can have a chic little boutique office that has much neighborhood utility as a boarded up empty space

      1. Um, what? how about if the laundromat isnt paying rent or can’t pay market rent because they’re no longer viable…like the one in question in this post.

        1. “Viable” being a normative statement wrt to the ability of the asset owner to wage unimpeded class war on the bottom 50% for whom basic amenities should be considered optional luxuries. Let them eat soapcakes!

          A city choking on the vomit of its campaign against the working, unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, fixed income, uncredentialed, undocumented, and homeless classes can never have enough boutique storefront architect offices. Those Dolo Heights/Bernal/Lower Haight Victorian teardowns for f-book lieutenants won’t design themselves, you know!

          1. Your comment is a nonsensical word salad — the ravings of a lunatic.

            Thankfully, you are not in a position of power.

          2. This is the City’s problem: plenty of histrionic screeds to go around, few solutions or policy prescriptions that can account for externalities or 2+ order effects. Being well-intentioned isn’t good enough.

  3. Absurd overreach.

    The city can rent some vacant retail space and run their own laundromats if provision of the service is now a public good to be preserved.

    Seriously, rent space and buy machines.

    1. What’s an absurd overreach is your desire to rezone laundromats when there’s a surplus of available commercial spaces in the city.

      Use what’s available.

      1. how absurd is it to pile more regulation on property owners when there is an overabundance of commercial spaces in the city…where laundromats can open if they want to. all of these ridiculous regulations haven’t helped anybody. not tenants and not owners.

        1. Let Markets Work! Let the unwashed masses in the ‘loin open their own laundromats in the Outer Mission if clean clothes and basic hygiene is such a big deal to them!

  4. “the ordinance would formalize an internal Planning Department policy that disallows for the approval of any proposed Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) that would lead to a reduction in a building’s on-site laundry facilities or accessibility.”

    This just sounds like it will make building residential units even more difficult in the city.

    1. Existing “housing services” in a building, such as access to laundry facilities, are typically protected by a tenant’s lease. But said services can be relocated to a different part of the building, without an interruption in service, in order to clear the way for an ADU. Or in the case of laundry facilities, a landlord could opt to install individual washers and dryers in each of the building’s units instead.

      1. There is a difference between coin-operated facilities in a rental building and facilities provided free of charge. If coin-operated, you always had the option of taking them away. If laundry machines had been provided free of charge you could still take them out, but had to compensate the tenants in their rents for the loss of this service.

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