Commission waxes positive on car wash

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Malibu drivers breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday when the city’s only stationary car wash was granted a reprieve.

After considering staff reports of numerous violations of Malibu Car Wash & Detail’s conditional use permit — weighed against testimony by about 30 residents, who waited four hours to voice strong support for owner Justin Silvers — the Planning Commission voted unanimously not to revoke the permit.

Most of the violations cited by staff were for parking cars awaiting or following service in spaces other than the seven allotted for the popular business.

The problem was not that Silvers wasn’t doing a good job. It was that he was doing such a good job customers were taking up too many spaces and double parking in a traffic lane while arranging for the services they wanted.

Silvers’ representative Alan Block noted the alleged violations were not proven by code enforcement officers and that most were a misunderstanding of what was actually taking place.

Most of those who spoke said they were in the habit of driving up to the car wash, stopping long enough to say they wanted a wash, wax or detail, parking their car and bringing back the keys. All said they shopped, lunched, had doctor’s or salon appointments, watched their kids play or take dance classes and used the center’s other facilities while their cars were serviced.

Several merchants and one dentist said the car wash was good for their businesses and thus had no adverse impact on parking.

“He’s an asset to my business, good for all the other businesses,” said Bernie Safire, whose salon is adjacent to the car wash. “He’s part of the community.”

Most said the business was environmentally friendly because it saved thousands of trips to Santa Monica or the Valley, and that cleaning cars on streets and driveways washes detergent and wax down storm drains and into the ocean.

Property Manager Greg Kozak noted the dates of the alleged parking violations were on Saturdays and Sundays when there is a lot of space vacant. “At least 20 assigned spaces are not in use.”

Block also noted, “Revocation of a vested interest should take a higher standard than application for a new CUP.”

In 1993, Silvers had to make a $65,000, nonrefundable payment for the Malibu Country Mart lease and was granted a CUP.

The permit was modified in August 1998 approving expansion of the use. At that time, modifications included limiting washing to the existing washing bay (stall 7) and detailing and spot checking to stalls 1 through 6 along the westerly property line. A new condition stated, “Customer parking shall be limited to parking stalls 52 through 54 only. Vehicles shall not be served in these parking stalls.” The use was also limited to washing and detailing only and prohibited window tinting, engine steam cleaning, dent removal and other uses not involving the exterior washing of a vehicle and detailed cleaning of the vehicle. The vote at that time was 4-1 in favor with Commissioner Ken Kearsley against.

This time, commissioners seemed inclined to allow the permit to remain but with new restrictions. Planning Director Craig Ewing reminded commissioners the cited violations involved specific restrictions they had added to the permit over his recommendation. “The problem is regulating behavior. It’s difficult for city planning departments to do. The conditions . . . are putting us in a baby-sitting role. You need to decide if you want this use here but not impose conditions.” Ewing said. “Don’t limit parking for the car wash to those spaces.”

Commissioner Andrew Stern agreed. “We set the staff up. We set impossible conditions. There’s clearly a necessity for this business. I don’t want to see the CUP taken away. We should relax the standards.”

Commissioner Jo Ruggles said, “I don’t think there was intent to set it up to fail. I agree the standards should be relaxed. I would not revoke the permit. Amend it.”

Commissioner Ed Lipnick said he thought violations had occurred but, “What we’ve seen here doesn’t meet the standard of proof for revocation.”

Kearsley said, “I believe he [Silvers] is too successful. He tries to compromise to get around the conditions. We should get rid of the standards so we don’t force him into violations.”

Ewing suggested the best way to keep people from double parking in the traffic lane is to have it red striped as a fire lane that must be kept clear. This is to be done within 90 days, after which sheriff’s deputies can ticket anyone parked in the fire lane.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to eliminate regulations on how cars are parked and to open up the use of the seven spaces on the west wall. Washing is still confined to the one bay that has a drain, and the electric spray compressor that restricts water flow may be used there.

After the meeting adjourned, Silvers said, “I’m very, very happy at the turnout. I’m proud to be in Malibu.”

In other action, the Planning Commission heard several hours of discussion on a zone text amendment relating to the definition and application of the stringline rule for establishing beachfront setbacks on beachfront lots. Kearsley and Lipnick favored the averaging method advocated by architects Ron Goldman and Norm Haynie; Stern proposed bringing the city’s rule into line with the Coastal Commission’s as applicants ultimately must satisfy those guidelines. Ruggles and Kabrin agreed. The vote was 5-0 to continue the matter to Jan. 17.