By Alfredo Santana
PICO RIVERA — The City Council has extended a moratorium that bans new car wash businesses for another year and called for an amendment to city laws to allow technological upgrades at eight current car wash facilities to make operations more efficient and save and recycle water.
In September 2021, the City Council approved a 45-day moratorium on new car washes and extended that in November 2021 for another 10 months to study the impact car washes had on impeding traffic by cars lining up to enter car washes, noise generated from vacuums and high water use during drought conditions.
Before the 4-1 vote was recorded, Councilman Andrew Lara requested a change in the document’s language to let car washing operators install new equipment with technologies that maximize water use.
He criticized the proposed ordinance because it did not offer room for established car washes to optimize water use while a permanent ordinance takes shape.
“I would like to see that we modify that second part [of the moratorium] so that existing car washes in our city can redevelop their site if they choose to improve for water conservation, water energy and upgrade their facility,” Lara said. “I think it’s important that we provide a pathway for businesses to be able to improve their facilities.”
Mayor Pro Tem Erik Lutz cast the only dissenting vote.
The initial moratorium draft only permitted car washes to do upgrades within their current footprint, and posed limits to upgrading equipment, City Manager Steve Carmona said.
“They cannot intensify their use or add to it, which could include bringing in new technology desired by the operator,” Carmona said.
Councilman Gustavo Camacho said he has always has been in favor of letting businesses reinvest on their premises so they can become more efficient service providers and bring a benefit to the community.
However, if the car wash businesses cannot afford to pay for more expensive equipment, upgrades will be difficult to accomplish, Councilman Raul Elias said.
He proposed expanding the city’s business loan program to include car washes impacted by the extended moratorium.
“They have to have consideration of where the cash is going to come to,” Elias said. “Because again, the idea of reinvesting without having any more cash flow for a year does not make sense.”
Currently in the city there are five independent car wash businesses and three that are attached to gas stations.
The stand-alone units are Best Car Wash, Fast5Xpress Car Wash, Jackson Street Coin-Op Car Wash, Pacific Car Wash and Al’s Auto Spa Car Wash.
Another issue raised by Mayor Monica Sanchez was the presence of homeless encampments with tents in empty car wash lots, and reports from residents who do not want the vacant structures to turn into eyesores or crime spots.
Although Sanchez did not say what car wash has been occupied by the homeless, a public record indicates Bubbles Car Wash, a former self-service facility at 4614 Rosemead Blvd., lost its license more than six months ago because it operated with a non-conforming status license in a residential zone.
Sanchez directed the Economic Development Department to explore what financial assistance the city can provide so the current car wash outlets remain open and have access to loans if they want to upgrade their operations.
Carmona said in a report that during the past year, the city started a list with interested parties, stakeholders and residents to obtain community input and has kept data of entrepreneurs interested in opening new car washes.
After the moratorium went into effect on Sept. 14, 2021, one business party reached out to inquire about a new car wash facility, and the city received a request from an established outlet to expand its site.
Among the mitigating options being studied by the Engineering and Building and Code Enforcement Divisions are new zoning to distance car washes from residential areas, installation of devices to reduce and mute noises, and limits to the number of cars lining up with two entry lines for automated centers.
Other solutions considered are issuing permits to operate only in industrial zones, given that the eight car wash sites operate within commercial zones in a city of only eight squares miles, and producing a handout to educate developers on new standards to mitigate operations and facilitate approval of permits.
In addition, public records indicate that Pico Rivera is reviewing ordinances in neighboring cities to tally how taxes, permit fees and codes have impacted residents, and concluded that many require conditional use permits and there are no permanent regulations focused on car wash businesses.
A document reviewed indicates licenses are issued based on individual location, and noted that in July 2021 Norwalk canceled a car wash permit after residents complained that the business served as a place for criminal activities and generated noise.