m240.jpg (9328 bytes)Mobile car businesses may be all washed up
by Roberta Landman
Staff Writer

WESTLAKE VILLAGE - The steamy mobile car-wash issue was supposed to come before the City Council in April, when the panel reviewed an ordinance to ban the activity in commercial area.

But officials say the matter has been placed on the back burner until at least May.

And that's likely to please at least one councilman.

:"I'm really on the fence on this," said Councilman Ken Rufener.  "I wish I could not have to vote on it."

Of a potential ban, he said, "I feel it's discriminatory and won't be enforceable."

Rufener had hoped the council would not move too quickly because he wants time to investigate the issue he says has "drug on for a long, long time."

A year ago, the city started making attempts to ban the mobiles.

Officials reasoned that since the mobile car-washes are not permitted in the city's zoning code - only stationary car washes are mentioned - they are operating illegally.

A new ordinance, if it comes to pass, would say that mobile car-washes specifically are not permitted, Planning Director Bob Theobald said.

Complaints about mobile carwashes include noise, parking lot problems and spray on other vehicles, officials said.

The city tested its law in July 1993 with the arrest and immediate release of two Car Wash Gals workers.  City officials decided not to prosecute after considering the cost of protracted litigation.

Regulating the mobile car wash firms remained a city goal, however.

Rufener's dilemma: "I know threre's people out there that want that service," he said.

Also, he wants proof that they are not sending pollutants down storm drains, in violation of federal and state environmental laws.

Rufener said he did some home experimenting, washing his car with two gallons of water, just like the mobiles.

"None of it came near a drain,"Rufener said.  "It was too little (water).  It ran down the curb, first 2 inches wide, and it kept getting narrower and narrower.  It ran about 57 feet down the street and stopped.  It just dried up."

But now Rufener is wondering if fixed or stationary carwash operators, who must install drains and contaminant filters, have a credible argument.

"The fixed car-wash people maintain pollution comes from what's on cars themselves, and when you remove the dirt and oil, that stuff sits on the ground.  And they maintain when rains wash it off, it then gets into the drain system," Rufener said.

"I've got to check that out a bit."

An irony, he indicted, is that when he washes his car on his property "I use a lot more water" and it goes right "in the storm drain."

Rufener said state law won't allow cities to stop people from washing cars on their own property.

He said he also wants to take the mobile car-wash matter to the public before he makes a decision on any ban.

"I want to go to several shopping center owners, or at least their managers to see whether they want the mobile washers," he said.

"If they say they're pests...that'll be persuasive...If they say they want them, I'm going to be persuaded to go with the (mobile) car washers," said Rufener.

Reprinted from News Chronicle, March 22, 1994.

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