Tighter Rules Are Proposed for Mobile Car Washers
by Carlos V. Lozano

*Planning: The ordinance urged by the Thousand Oaks commission would limit where the businesses can operate.

Despite complaints from some mobile car washers, the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission is recommending City Council approval of an ordinance that would more strictly regulate the roving businesses.

After a five-hour public hearing, the commission voted 4 to 1 early Tuesday to recommend approval of the ordinance that would, among other restrictions, limit where mobile car washers could operate.

LA Times 9-15-1993Commissioner Linda Parks cast the dissenting vote, saying she did not agree with a provision that would require mobile car washers to obtain written permission from property owners before beginning work.

Parks said this would be difficult for car washers to do on short notice and in turn would make it harder to compete with the owners of drive-through carwashes.

During the public hearing, half a dozen mobile car washers accused the owners of drive-through washes of trying to force them out of business by pushing for the new law and flooding city officials with trumped-up complaints.

"This is just general harassment," said Lance Winslow, owner of The Car Wash Guys.  "I've been followed around by people in Rolls-Royces.  It gets to be a real drag."

But a handful of owners and representatives of drive-through and self-service carwashes dismissed the accusations, saying the mobile car washers operate virtually free of city regulations.  In some instances, they said, mobile car washers use cleaning chemicals that find their way into the city's storm drains.

"If I did some of the things they did, I'd be arrested," said Scott Armstrong, general manager of the Janss Mall Car Wash.

Several mobile car washers said they do not use chemicals to clean most cars, and if they do, are careful not to let it run into storm drains.

Armstrong also said the mobile car washers had an unfair advantage because they could operate anywhere in the city, including areas that are not zoned for carwashes.

"Shopping center parking lots are not designed or intended to be used for car wash businesses," he said.

The commission agreed and recommended that mobile car washers be prohibited from working in shopping center parking lots and city streets.  However, they would still be allowed to wash oversized vehicles, such as large campers, on residential streets.

Despite Parks' dissenting vote, the commission added a provision suggested by her that would allow property owners to display stickers or signs telling car washers to stay away.  They said this would make enforcement easier.

The commission rejected a provision that would have required mobile car washers to obtain permission from property owners before acquiring an operating permit.  Instead, the panel recommended that mobile car washers be given 90 days to obtain permission from the owners of property where they plan to do business.

Although auto detailers would be bound by the same restrictions, as mobile car washers, they would be exempt from the 30-minute cleaning time that would be allowed per car under the new ordinance.  The commission agreed that detailers, who mostly specialize in waxing and cleaning the insides of cars, require more time to complete their work than the car washers.

Under the new law, mobile car washers would also be required to obtain an operating permit at a cost of $150.

Despite the city's efforts to gain more control over the mobile car washers, Commissioner Irving Wasserman said during Monday night's hearing,  "Personally I think this whole thing is unenforceable."

The City Council is expected to take up the issue in the coming weeks.

Reprinted from The Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1993.

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