Santa Maria Code Enforcement officials will provide education and outreach to mobile car wash owners over the next months to establish compliance with sweeping regulations approved by the City Council on Tuesday.

Mobile car washing and detailing now will be prohibited on public streets and limited to private property. Washers also must possess certain permits and equipment to gather and transport wastewater for disposal at the city's treatment facility rather than on streets. 

The ordinance was first presented to the council last summer in response to complaints about mobile car washes operating in fixed locations and wastewater entering storm drains, especially on Boone Street, but voting was delayed so officials could perform community outreach. 

"I just want to reassure the community that our intent is actually to keep folks working and keep cars clean. It's better for both the environment and for us, but we do need to recognize the impact of state regulations and get our community into compliance," City Attorney Thomas Watson said. 

The City Council rubber-stamped the addition of Section 4-21 to the city municipal code in a 3-2 vote Tuesday, with council members Gloria Soto and Mike Cordero dissenting.

Mobile car wash and detailing owners protested outside City Hall during the meeting that was closed to the public out of coronavirus precautions. 

Three other marches in opposition to the regulations have taken place since the first reading of the ordinance on March 16. 

While enforcement and fees outlined in the ordinance will not go into effect until at least late summer, many owners said the new regulations are likely to put them out of business, and that officials did not take into account the impacts on their families.

"This has affected me greatly. I can't sleep and I haven't been able to eat," said mobile car wash owner Manuel Delgado, who called into the meeting to give public comment. "We are just getting out of the pandemic, and what the City Council wants to do is like a bomb for us."

While officials counted around 80 mobile wash businesses with licenses in Santa Maria, local business owners said the true number of licensed and unlicensed washes, including those that operate part and full time, is closer to 180. 

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"Half of those use at least one helper for a total of 270 families involved in the service, and I know each and every one of them personally," said Chris Barajas, owner of California Detail Center and a longtime member of the local mobile car wash community. 

Currently, many mobile washers operate from a fixed location, allowing them to wash a number of vehicles. According to Barajas, requiring these businesses to operate only on private property will severely limit their reach. 

"That right there is almost impossible. Not every car can be done on private property. If you go to an office and they’re parked on a street, you set up your cones for safety. If that building doesn’t allow for private parking, you’ve lost business," he said.

Councilwoman Etta Waterfield also expressed concerns about that aspect of the ordinance, noting that when she hires a mobile washer, her vehicle has to be cleaned on the street since she doesn't have space in her driveway. 

Watson said that requirement, along with other elements of the ordinance, could be modified in the fall if they seem unreasonable. 

Owners also have said the cost of required equipment could be prohibitive. A 100-gallon tank system and mat needed to collect and transport dirty water can cost up to $1,200 for a simple system and $2,000 for one that is more advanced, according to Barajas.

Washers also will be required to keep and submit records to Code Enforcement officials of vehicles washed, locations, water used, and receipts for water discharge on a monthly basis. 

Soto, who voted against the ordinance, said she understood the pressure from the state to keep local water clean but wished the city had further engaged mobile wash owners prior to finalizing the ordinance. 

"After having conversations with the mobile car wash owners, and during the conversations we had here at the dais, I am concerned," Soto said. "The [perception] in the community is that we didn't take the time to sit with folks and to hear from them … about this ordinance before it coming to the council." 

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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