In Santa Maria, it’s not hard for residents to find a mobile car washer to make their cars squeaky clean.
However, a new ordinance that could be adopted by the Santa Maria City Council on April 6 has the potential to put some struggling mobile washers out of business.
Those individuals made their voice heard Tuesday afternoon in a peaceful protest through the city. Approximately 100 mobile car washers participated in a car caravan on Broadway, followed by a crowd of 60 who marched to City Hall, according to local media reports.
“Right now, if you’re charging $35 to $45 for a regular car wash, with the new requirements that they’re adding, prices are going to double, and, of course, nobody’s going to pay $75 to $80 for a regular car wash,” Roxana Estrada, co-owner of Estrada Auto Detailing, told the News-Press. She and her husband have been operating the mobile car washing business since 2008.
The ordinance was proposed by city staff to regulate mobile car washing operations. Staff cited recent concerns about washers setting up shop on city streets (specifically Boone Street) and staying in one location all day, saying that the wastewater — which is high in pollutants — drains into the city’s stormwater system.
If the pollution is too high, staff said the city can be liable for daily fines from regulatory agencies. Per the staff report, the city requested mobile washers to berm off their wash locations to collect water, but some washers dumped the dirty soil back into the landscaping with the pollutants it absorbed.
Therefore, the mobile car washing ordinance would ban mobile car washing from city streets completely, requiring mobile washers to go to all of their customers instead of remaining at a fixed location.
It would also require mobile car washers to: purchase a catch basin capable of collecting all the water used to clean the car; purchase a vacuum or pump system to deposit the dirty water into a tank that they also must purchase; show that they have vehicles and trailers capable of transporting the dirty water tank to a disposal facility; obtain a permit to dispose water; and provide evidence of proper disposal with invoices.
The owners also are required to have a business license and pass a test to demonstrate their knowledge of the requirements and their ability to comply with the ordinance. Their employees must pass this test as well.
Those who receive a permit would be required to: post bonds, carry insurance on their vehicles used during the mobile car washing process, carry general liability insurance if they are performing traditional washes and pay the city for their actions.
“I understand we’re in the time of COVID and we need to do all we can to support and protect small business entrepreneurs, but when we’re talking about our storm drains impacted and those pollutants going straight into creeks and oceans, that’s a concern of mine,” Council member Gloria Soto, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said at the city council meeting. “Anything we can do to protect and preserve water, I am in favor of.”
The council wasn’t in complete agreement on the ordinance, voting 4-1, with Council member Mike Cordero as the dissenting vote. He even said upon voting “nay” that he hopes to draft a letter from himself, not the council, to send to the state to address this issue.
“One of the issues I have with this is that if you hire someone to come to your home to do that work, they’ll have all of these rules they have to comply with, as they should, but if I choose to go out and wash my car, I’m not under any regulation at all,” the council member said. “I just think that we’re going to hurt some people. Some of these people are working hard, harder than many others are working. … I think somewhere along the line, it’ll get challenged.”
Mrs. Estrada said the biggest issues she sees with the ordinance are: the inability to park in the street and the requirement of a written statement by the property owners approving the car wash and for them to be present during the entire wash.
“Here in Santa Maria, you’ve seen the new houses. You can barely fit a car on the driveway, and with most of the mobile car washes, it’s a truck with a trailer,” she said. “And then they want the owner of the vehicle there at all times. They can’t go back to work or inside the home. I mean, that’s the point of a mobile car wash. … They can continue on whatever they’re doing during the day.”
Mrs. Estrada added that, on most occasions, mobile car washes keep the local youth out of trouble because they ask for help when teens walk by. Because she and her husband are contracted with national companies with commercial trucks, they provide an essential business that brings revenue to the city that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
“Here in Santa Maria, there’s a lot of homeless people in the streets. What does that bring to the streets? Trash. You see human waste that goes into the drain. There’s other, more important concerns going into the drain than water and soap,” she said. “I’m not sure where the city council members live, but maybe they should take a drive around Santa Maria to see what actually is happening.
“I think maybe the city council should keep the regulations that they have right now and have their city rangers focus on the ones that aren’t following the regulations.”
The city proposed an alternative to mobile car washes using water — waterless washing, which uses a high-lubricity spray that collects dust and dirt and can be wiped off with towels. However, both Mrs. Estrada and Emanuel Mosqueda, who has been a mobile car washer in Santa Maria for a decade, told the News-Press that spray will scratch vehicles.
“That is something I’m against, because there (are) some clients that I have that are field workers and I do their flatbeds,” Mr. Mosqueda said. “If you do waterless on those trucks, guess what? You’re going to scratch those trucks. …That’s the last thing I want to do for my clients.”
Mr. Mosqueda said he’s not worried that he will lose his business, and that he will follow any rules put in place as he has been for the past decade. However, he’s worried about other businesses who won’t abide by the new rules.
“There’s going to be people that are not going to listen and not do the proper things and I’m scared that in the future the city will not give people their licenses,” he said. “I’m willing to follow all the rules as long as they don’t remove our licenses.”
The city released a statement following the protest on Tuesday, saying, “The city is not trying to put anybody out of business. The goal is to have mobile commercial washers return to being mobile, not stationary on a street, which is what drives many of the complaints we receive.”
Mayor Alice Patino said at the meeting that adjustments can be made to the ordinance.
“This may seem like we’re going a little further than we need to go, but we don’t know that right now,” she said. “I think this might just ultimately get people to clean up their own act when they know the city is looking at them now and not just ignoring them as they’ve been going on their merry way.”
A GoFundMe page was created over the weekend by Chris Barajas, owner of California Detail Center. He wrote in the description, “These mostly minority-owned small business owners and their families need our help. Your donation will help to cover the cost of advertising and signs for planned marches and caravans. We will also hire an attorney to fight this ordinance and force the city attorney to sit down with us and amend it to be fair and give them a chance to remain in business. If there is any money leftover, it will be used to purchase as much required equipment as possible for the ones that cannot afford it.”
Visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-mobile-car-washers-fight-city-hall to learn more about the campaign. More caravan protests are planned over the next two weeks before city officials take up the ordinance April 6.