Oakland’s City Council looooves small business, and loves to talk and talk and talk, ad nauseum, about just how much they love small business. What usually goes unsaid in these endless, self-congratulatory sermons, is that they don’t actually love all small business.
No, the Council as a whole loves to fantasize about how their tireless efforts will soon fill up Oakland’s commercial districts with locally-owned, chef-driven restaurants that serve healthy, seasonal, locally grown food for exceptionally reasonable prices and carefully decorated boutiques stocked with locally sourced, sustainably made, overpriced knick-knacks.
But when it comes to businesses that aren’t quite so adorable, the type that exist because people actually use them all the time, the story changes. A number of Councilmembers make routine habit of complaining about nail salons every chance they get, and it has seemed clear for some time that some form of limitation or prohibition on new nail salons will be part of the new citywide zoning code whenever it gets passed.
But the spate of well-manicured women (and men) on our streets is apparently such a grave danger to our fair city that apparently waiting until next year simply won’t do . Instead, the Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee will be considering an emergency ordinance at their meeting this afternoon (PDF) intended to prevent new nail shops and laundromats from flooding our neighborhoods.
The emergency ordinance (PDF) would require all new nail salons and self-serve laundromats to receive a major conditional use permit before opening. It costs roughly $3,000 to apply for such a permit, and of course the hope of the ordinance is that they won’t be granted.
According to the ridiculous resolution (PDF), an immediate nail salon moratorium is “necessary to preserve the public peace, health, welfare, or safety and to avoid a direct threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the community” because “interrupting pedestrian-oriented retail nodes with these activities can detract from the success of these nodes.” These controls would last for one year, while staff prepares a more permanent solution to the alleged overconcentration of nail shops.
I get that people (usually, but not always, people who don’t get their nails done) think that nail salons are ugly. I realize that pretty much nobody is going to be on my side on this one and anticipate lots of comments about how all of you hate nail shops too and think banning them is the greatest thing ever. I don’t actually think nail salons are the cutest things to walk past either. Well, some are, but those places tend to charge upwards of $20 for a simple manicure. But the fact is, that the reason we have so many of them is because people use them a lot. Try getting your nails done in the three hour period around lunchtime in the DTO someday and you’ll see what I mean. There is nowhere to go that you don’t have to wait in line!
Same with laundromats. They’re not pretty, but they are necessary. Not everyone lives in a house with their own washer and dryer, and many apartments (including mine) lack adequate (or any) on-site laundry facilities.
Successful retail districts can’t be made up completely of adorable destination gift shops. It is often exactly this sort of unglamorous, yet practical activities that bring people out to our commercial districts in the first place. Treating them like they’re the same thing as liquor stores is absurd.