Council tries again to wipe
out mobile car washers
Three members of the Westlake Village City Council are determined to rid the city of mobile car wash operations and, since the last attempt was thwarted by a lawsuit, they are trying a new tactic.
This one, too, will be challenged.
Councilmembers Kris Carraway, Jim Emmons and Berniece Bennett want to see the mobile car wash business driven out of Westlake Village. Stated reasons are: the compressors are noisy; the units block traffic in parking lots; overspray messes up adjacent vehicles; they operate on private property without permission and they are taking business from the city's only stationary car wash.
One year ago, councilmembers attempted to ban mobile car wash businesses on the premise that since they operate without a permit and they are not a permitted use within city limits, then they are, in fact, illegal.
But when the city manager tapped the Mobile Car Wash Gals on the shoulder and asked them to move on, they refused and were arrested. A lawsuit ensued and the city recently dropped the charges to avoid costly legal fees.
Determined councilmembers are now considering zoning them out of Westlake Village. A proposed zoning ordinance will make it illegal to operate a mobile car wash business in any commercially-zoned area. Residential areas are not off limits under terms of the new law.
Mayor Doug Yarrow and Councilman Ken Rufener previously voted against banning mobile car wash operations and still have reservations. According to Rufener, the argument that soapy runoff pollutes storm drains may not hold water. Cities are required under the federal Clean Water Act to prevent pollutants from entering storm drains. But, business owners presented evidence last time negating the pollution theory, he said.
Yarrow said that excluding one type of business may be discriminatory and, as such, unenforceable.
"Zoning ordinances are discriminatory by nature," said Bob Theobald, planning director, who added; L.A. County has had the same ordinance for years and has never been sued.
"Mass car washing is understandably a problem," said Jim Kniffen, owner of a mobile auto detailing company called Executive Auto Care. "But detailing is a different category. It's radically different than anybody else."
Kniffen intends to challenge the proposed zoning ordinance.
Whereas mobile car wash dealers may handle 30 to 40 cars at a time, use motorized equipment, pressurized water spray and soap, detailers service one to two vehicles by appointment only, Kniffen said. The small amount of water used (16 oz. to 2 gallons) never reaches storm drains, he said.
"There's a huge difference. At least 100 businesses use more water than I do. And, there's about 40 mass car washers and two to three detailers," Kniffen said. "If they put us in the same category, we will be forced to defend ourselves."
The problem was solved in Thousand Oaks when the city passed an ordinance requiring mass mobile car washers to use a water collection units. At about $2,000 each, the carts are cost prohibitive, Kniffen said.
The most effective and easily enforceable solution regarding commercials properties would not involve the city, he said. "They should leave it up to the property manager to post a sign. If the management does not allow car washing, it's an easily enforceable issue.
"Whether residential or in a business complex, this absolutely could be handled by the private sector," Kniffen said.
The proposed ordinance is scheduled for council consideration in April.
Reprinted from The Acorn, March 9, 1994.