Mobile Car Washers Face Few Added Restrictions
Thousand Oaks: The city will require an annual fee and keep operators away from storm drains and busy shopping plazas.
by Stephanie Simon
Times Staff Writer

Reluctant to meddle in a thriving industry, the Thousand Oaks City Council has scuttled proposed regulations on mobile car washers that some entrepreneurs complained would have driven them out of business.

After three years of public hearings and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the council Tuesday tried to resolve the mobile carwash issue for good by leaving the roaming auto scrubbers largely unregulated.

The law approved late Tuesday night contains just two new restrictions: mobile car washers must operate at least 75 feet from storm drains, and they can work in shopping plazas only if they stay out of parking lots with heavy traffic.  Each of the mobile businesses will also have to pay an annual $150 licensing fee.

Rejecting recommendations by city staff and the Planning Commission, the council decided not to limit the amount of time car washers can spend in a given parking lot, and not to bar them from door-to-door solicitation.

The council also ruled that car washers do not have to obtain written permission from property owners before operating in an industrial, retail or office parking lot.  Instead, the burden will be on the property owners, who can post signs forbidding car washing or any other mobile operation, such as auto detailing or catering.

The ordinance passed by a 3-1 vote, with Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski holding out for tougher regulations.  Councilman Alex Fiore was absent.

Although some council members had signaled support for a crackdown on mobile businesses last winter, they backed off after two hours of testimony form carwash supporters.

Their action mirrored a vote last month on regulating home-based child-care facilities.  After months of study, several public hearings and countless drafts of an ordinance, the council decided to scrap most of the proposed restrictions on residential child-care centers.

"Sometimes we tend to get carried away with our efforts to control what we see as possibly detrimental," Councilwoman Judy Lazar said.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board's written assurance that runoff from car washing does not pose a pollution threat convinced Lazar to let the mobile car washers off the hook, she said.  The mobile washers have repeatedly insisted that they use only potable water, with no soap - and the new law requires them to continue this policy.

"Why that had not been clear to me before I'm not sure," Lazar said.  "I can only plead a mental aberration."

During the spirited public hearing, one free-enterprise booster quoted John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.   And Car Wash Guys owner Lance Winslow passed around a two-volume scrapbook to prove that he has been a hard-working, civic minded businessman for years.

Mocking some council members' affection for passing ordinances, local gadfly Chuck Morsa jokingly suggested that city leaders take care of several hot topics at once by drafting a master rule on mobile car washing, street vending and panhandling.

"Maybe you could pull the hot-dog trucks behind the carwash guys and wash the homeless people and feed them at the same time, he urged the council to "leave the little guys alone and stop picking on them."

Fixed-site carwash operators have lobbied the city for a crackdown on mobile competitors, contending they unfairly undercut prices and pollute the city's storm drains.  Ed Drogmund, the only fixed-site carwash owner to testify, told the council to consider him as a small businessman, and recognize that some mobile carwash operations employ dozens of crews.

"I have 1 employees besides myself," he said.  "I don't wash 40 to 50 cars a day.  I don't have eight trucks running around town.  In this respect, I'm the little guy."

Reprinted from Los Angles Times, November 11, 1993.

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