Escondido, CA
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City adopts moratorium on new car washes

The city of Escondido has 28 car washes. The city council Wednesday decided that was enough for now and adopted a 45-day moratorium on new ones while staff prepares to present a new policy to the council for approval.
That policy could be extended to self-storage businesses. If some council members have their way it would also include fast food restaurants and Starbucks.
Under the old policy, car washes were allowed by right, without a conditional use permit
According to Jay Petrek, assistant city manager, state law allows moratoriums on some land uses, that might pose a threat to health safety and community welfare. “We have a more permissive policy regarding car washes compared to other cities.” San Marcos, Vista and Poway all require conditional use permits for car washes.
This prompted one council member to observe that this might be why the city was getting so many car washes.
An overabundance of this type of business goes against a previously adopted specific plan that discourages businesses that most people associate with a lower economic spectrum. The goal is to encourage businesses that increase employee intensity and offer higher wages, said Petrek. Car washes don’t fit those goals.
“There’s doesn’t appear to be a dearth of opportunity to get your car washed,” observed Petrek. “While some it looks like a Starbucks at every corner, we definitely have more car washes than Starbucks.”
The noise and odors created by car washes are other reasons why the city staff made the recommendation.
A 29th car wash is in the midst of the city approval project, and would, if allowed to move forward, be built at 684 North Broadway.
The new code amendment that staff is proposing to bring to the council would require that future facilities such as this be approved through a conditional use permit (CUP.) This process would allow the city to add design requirements for mitigating noise and odor. Car washes would no longer be automatically approved—and the effect would be to discourage them.
The Planning Commission has already approved this code amendment. It will come before the council May 23 for first reading, and a second reading on June 6 and become effective July 6 if adopted.
The moratorium, however, became effective immediately. Because it was considered an emergency measure, 4 out of 5 votes were required. However, all five council members voted for the measure.
Once the code is adopted such projects would be decided case by case.
The vote affected the pending car wash at 684 North Broadway, the location of the former Ups and Downs Skating Rink. “We want to employ higher densities and increase businesses that promote higher densities along Broadway, increase employment densities and attract businesses that raise the median income,” said Petrek.
The building is subject to a demolition review because of its age.
The council vote temporarily suspended the proposed project, giving the owner more time to adapt his project to the new regulations.
Project proponent, Neal Capa, objected to the process. He noted that the site has been vacant for ten years. “I felt the city was business friendly. This has been approved by a process we followed over a year, and spent over $100,000,” he said.
Capa received a notice from the city on January 24 that an approval letter would be forthcoming. “Everything we were asked for, we did,” he said. “How can anyone make a decision and invest in Escondido and change the rules at the 11th hour? I understand the council wants to change the rules, but I think my project should be carved out.”
Councilman Ed Gallo was sympathetic. “This gives me heartburn,” he said. “The guy followed the rules. I don’t care if we get another car wash, but this guy came in with good intentions, everything going great and then we said, ‘What have we done?’ I have a problem telling this guy that after a year, we told you it’s OK, but we just changed our mind. That won’t resonate well in the business community. I’m leaning towards the applicant on this one.” But he added that he supported requiring a conditional use permit like other cities. “I can’t believe we have so many car washes. Maybe we should put in Starbucks with car washes.”
Councilmember Mike Morasco said he was in favor “of hitting the pause button and reconsider how we process fewer applications. We are oversaturated with car washes because of how we do it compared to other cities. We need to slow way down.” He said he considered self-service storage units, “even more problematic.”
Councilmember John Masson added, “We are definitely oversaturated with car washes and fast food operations.” He called the car wash’s location, in a “gateway” to the downtown, “not the highest and best use of the property. We are trying to increase the level of living, but at the same time they went through the process and invested a lot of time and money.”
He said that while he favored a compromise for Capa, “We definitely need the ordinance. I’d like to see something similar for fast food. But you can’t change the rules in the middle of the game and expect folks to jump through hoops.”
Councilmember Olga Diaz said, “It’s never too late until it’s built.” She said she wanted to be fair to the applicant, but also wanted to limit certain types of businesses, like mini storage, and check cashing. “I’m willing to hit the pause button, and do an inventory so.,”she said. She added that she was also for limiting Starbucks. But mainly she wants to see a more comprehensive strategy for limiting all kinds of businesses, and said, “I’m perfectly willing to look at what other cities are doing. I’d like to see it more comprehensive.”
She added that she wanted to do something for the applicant and suggested that if he was out the $100,000 he had already spent because he was forced to start the process again, that “He’d probably sue us, and he’d probably not be out that money.” She proposed grandfathering the project.
She added that instead of so much streamlining of projects that there should be more council review.
Mayor Sam Abed concluded the council comments. “Do we believe in the free market? Absolutely. Do we care about our community? Yes.” He said the council approved a specific plan for the downtown that excludes some businesses, “because we need to create an environment that serves the community. I think going through the CUP process serves the business and the residents.”
Noting that the old hospital will soon be replaced by 1,000 units, he said, “We’re creating a vision for a downtown.” He said the project would not be rejected. “All we are doing is pausing to make sure we go through the process.” He said the purpose was a “vibrant downtown,” which means “you can’t have an overconcentration of some businesses. We need to pause. This is our policing power. We care about the community first.”
The council voted 5-0 for the moratorium.

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