This Consultant’s Corner is unlike any of my previous articles. I will take you through what my partners and I experienced on the coastal region of Southern Los Angeles County. The obstruction of a state-of-the-art carwash was caused by a select group of residents. I will also cover several aspects of city bureaucracy, local politics and, in my opinion, the misuse of a law known as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
In March of 2012, one partner of more than 20 years and I decided to get back into washing cars. We were looking at facilities in and around Southern California — all the way from Ventura to the Palm Springs area.
We found some potential deals only to discover they were pending “foreclosure types” and often in the hands of less-than-savvy “asset managers” or even less reputable consultants and brokers. Around this time I revisited an old site that my partners and I had eyed for 15 years or more. This is the Redondo site the whole CEQA issue is centered around.
I began my preliminary due diligence, and after a few weeks I was able to sign a 35-year lease to re-develop the old Redondo Car Wash that had operated with great success for more than 40 years. The previous owners closed the carwash down and awaited a new zoning designation. The owners hoped to develop mixed-use buildings on the land, but residents in the area fought tooth and nail, and eventually the idea was defeated. My partners and I hoped to build a carwash and bring the property full circle to what it was before.
Initial discussions and groundbreaking
In my preliminary meetings with the City of Redondo Beach, the mood was jubilant and everyone wanted something new on the now vacant lot with the derelict carwash structure. Since my partners and I were willing to spend the money, we were welcomed with open arms. This included the council member for the 2nd District where the carwash resides, who was encouraging, wanting us to demolish the old structure in anticipation of a new “greener and neighborhood-friendly carwash.” The council member even had me postpone the demolition of the structure so the media could be there and get photos of him living up to his campaign promise to rid the neighborhood of the blight that was the old structure.
The abandoned wash location was indeed a haven for juvenile delinquents, the homeless and others. Obviously when some of the nearby residents bought their homes, they were unaware of not only the carwash structure right next door, but also of the dangerous and unwelcome guests that would frequent the building just a hundred feet or so from neighboring apartments.
In August 2012 we hosted the big photo opportunity, and a celebratory groundbreaking ceremony was held with the media, city staff, mayor’s office and approximately two dozen neighbors who lived around the old carwash. The councilman had a hard hat and a shovel and was perched on a bulldozer giving a speech that welcomed the new carwash. This was big local news, and by the time it was all said and done, I must have completed half a dozen phone interviews with local newspapers.
Neighbors take notice
A couple of neighbors who live halfway up the block had ignored our door-to-door invitations to the groundbreaking ceremony, and they said “no one told them.” It ends up their eventual challenge to our carwash was predicated on this and their attitude stating “no one ran this by us, we are the decision makers for this street, and because we live up the block from this commercially-zoned lot, we get to decide what type of business goes on that lot.” They claimed they found out about the carwash from the media and not from the door-to-door invitations for the groundbreaking ceremony. This was my mistake, and boy, did I pay a price for that.
Keeping the boring details to a minimum, here is where our year-long journey through the city’s permitting and C.U.P. process began. Normally, this process would last approximately 90 days. During the early stages of the process, my partners and I tried hard to reach out to the two “decision makers.” Unbeknownst to us, they and other carwash owners in the area planned to see the Redondo Project fail.
The first round of hearings was held with the city’s planning commission in January 2013, and they did not go well for us. A month earlier we held a town hall meeting where a handful of anti-carwash residents were present. We believed this was a chance to reach out and discuss the project. Instead the handful of residents that participated in a question and answer session with our design team wrote down information. This information was later used against us during the city hearings. They succeeded and managed to sandbag us. The end result was that our design for an express/flex carwash was not approved.
Certainly I was disappointed and frustrated, but at the same time I resolved to see this project through. After careful consideration, my partners and I decided to move ahead and re-apply to the planning commission instead of appealing to the city council. The new design was for a full-service carwash, the model of the previous Redondo Car Wash location.
Though the carwash project was and is extremely popular with the other 99.999 percent of Redondo residents, this reapplication did not sit well with the anti-wash handful. In April of 2013 we went back before the planning commission, and after a 5-0 unanimous vote the Redondo Auto Spa was approved with some stringent conditions.
By now the carwash had become a full-blown political battle. It was a hot local issue with elections coming up. One councilman changed his stance to align with the anti-wash group, but fortunately for my partners and me, other politicians in town were pro-business and also up for re-election. After meeting with these gentlemen and proactively lobbying for our project, we were able to move ahead with confidence to the next step. The appeal of the planning commission’s decision by the anti-wash group went to the entire city council and passed 4-1.
But the anti-wash group was not done yet. They managed to collect money from all the parties that had helped them fund their city approval fight, and they took us to state court under the guise of CEQA. The result? The judge, in a resounding 19-page brief, found in our favor.
As of today the anti-wash group has hired an appellate attorney to again try and delay things, but we are not expecting the appellate court to see things any differently. This and other challenges are sometimes faced by businesses and developers alike.
During the delay, we realized that the Redondo location would not open any time soon, and we discovered a huge opportunity had appeared before us. The owner of Hermosa Hand Car Wash had been planning his early retirement, and as a result, we were able to take over the business there. See my article on Themed Carwashes in the October issue to see how we started Rock ‘N’ Roll Car Wash in Hermosa Beach and joined a growing, exciting trend here in the Los Angeles area.
Until next time,
Christopher C. McKenna of McKenna Assets LLC, based in Redondo Beach, Calif., can be reached at 310-947-9711 or via email at [email protected].You can also visit his website at www.carwash-consultant.com. For more information on this subject and other carwash equipment, products and services, please visit www.theschoolofwash.com.