Despite a protest outside City Hall during the meeting and three protests before that, the Santa Maria City Council voted to approve new regulations for mobile car wash owners.
There were three votes in favor from Mayor Alice Patino and council members Etta Waterfield and Carlos Escobedo, and two votes against the measure from council members Mike Cordero and Gloria Soto.
The ordinance could potentially be adjusted in the coming weeks, and city staff plans to hold workshops in English and Spanish to help mobile car wash owners understand the regulations, along with hearing their feedback.
“After having conversations with the mobile car wash owners and also during the conversation we had here … I am concerned at the fact that as happy as I am that we’re moving forward with providing workshops for folks around how this ordinance will impact them, I often find that we, as council members, may make decisions and take on votes and create policies and ordinances without really talking to the folks first about how these policies will ultimately impact them,” Council member Soto said. “We didn’t take the time to sit with folks and hear from them and what their concerns are on imposing an ordinance.”
The ordinance aims to accomplish three things: ensure the mobile car washers are actually mobile and not stationary; require mobile car wash owners to obtain a business license; and prevent wastewater from draining into the city’s wastewater system. City staff said the push to do so was coming from the state demands, and they needed to create city regulations to comply with the state’s demands.
“The Environmental Protection Agency gets complaints, and then they let us know that they’ve had complaints and we need to react to those complaints and install regulations,” Mayor Patino said at the meeting. “We’re not trying to be heavy-handed. We just can’t have this discharge going down our stormwater drains out to the ocean.”
The city received 16 written comments from community members in opposition, as well as a petition with 563 signatures against the ordinance. Their general theme was that the ordinance would be too large of a financial burden on the owners and put many out of work.
“Just because some of these individuals come from another country or don’t speak the language, these qualities that they have as far as whether they want to use their brains or their backs to get ahead, that’s a quality that should be embraced and not stomped out,” Chris Barajas, a leader of those in opposition, told the News-Press Wednesday. He added that around 40 protesters showed up at City Hall at 3 p.m. Tuesday out of the 180 mobile detailers in Santa Maria.
Council members stressed they are not trying to eliminate jobs from anyone and that they hope to support local entrepreneurs as they figure out ways to collect their wastewater and dispose of it properly.
“The primary misconception is that, in some way, the city is trying to eliminate the livelihood from small business people, and that really is never our intent,” Thomas Watson, Santa Maria’s city attorney, told the News-Press. “One of our regular complaints was that the car washers were, in essence, setting up stationary operations, and if we get back to being mobile, I think we’ll have less concerns about the environmental impacts.”
Mr. Watson said the city isn’t looking to cite, fine or penalize.
Rather, he said, staff wants to assist the owners and educate them if they’re not complying, something he referred to as the “Santa Maria way.”
“If there’s a better way of doing it, we’re always willing to adjust for things that are cumbersome and difficult,” Mr. Watson said. “You can always try and create workshops, but until there’s an ordinance on the table, it’s hard to get folks’ attention.”
Despite the reassurance that the ordinance is not trying to put the mobile car wash owners out of business, Mr. Barajas told the News-Press that he’s in the process of exploring legal options that could reverse the decision or send it back for open discussion.
“We’re upset. It’s an emotional moment,” he said. “I don’t trust the City Council to go back and revise any of this ordinance. Why would they? This is going to appeal to the car wash owners’ desires to remove and eliminate as many of the mobile car washers in Santa Maria (as they can).”
Mr. Barajas said that the ordinance, “by process of elimination,” will remove up to 85% to 90% of the mobile car washers in the city that cannot afford to comply with the new requirements or would rather not jump through the hoops.
“They might just start detailing around the city limits and avoid Santa Maria altogether,” he said, adding that he does believe that if he and the other owners had sat down with the city before the ordinance was written, they could have addressed the environmental concerns. In addition, he said that he asked the mobile detailers to clear Boone Street “as a show of willingness to cooperate.”
“We would have complied with the concerns of the city and we would have worked together rather than just throwing out blanket regulations over the whole thing and pretty much eliminating 85% of us,” he said. “I just think that many families are going to be affected and they’re going to require assistance in the form of housing assistance, rental assistance and food and shelter …
“This was their method to stay ahead of inflation and poverty, and now the city has taken that away from them.”