City Council overrides Planning Commission’s denial of permit for Central Long Beach car wash

By Jason Ruiz, Long Beach Post

The long-standing Los Potros Mexican restaurant and nightclub on Pacific Coast Highway in Central Long Beach could soon become an automated car wash after the City Council voted to overturn a decision the Planning Commission made in November to deny the project.

The council voted unanimously (7-0) Tuesday night to approve zoning changes and a conditional use permit for the car wash over the opposition of community members who said that there are already too many car washes in the vicinity and that the site should be reserved for more community-serving uses like affordable housing, retail or homeless services.

Lobbyists and a lawyer representing the developer argued that building the project was better than not building anything and allowing the restaurant, which they described as blighted and problematic, to continue to operate.

“The site is extremely blighted, and the existing business is not enhancing the site today,” said Francis Park, a land use attorney representing the developer, Star Express Car Wash.

Park said the $7.5 million investment into the site, which sits at the corner of PCH and Gardenia Avenue, could serve as an anchor for future development and create dozens of short-term construction jobs and about 10 jobs once the car wash becomes operational.

Those jobs would be offered to Los Potros’ employees first, according to Alex Cherin, a lobbyist who was part of a team including former City Manager Pat West that represented the developer.

Alejandro Reynoso, who’s worked at Los Potros for the past 26 years and currently serves as a security guard, said that the calls for service that the developer cited in trying to paint the restaurant as a nuisance were often the result of something that happened outside Los Potros, whose employees called 911 and provided its address to help first responders show up quickly.

The 10 jobs the car wash might create pale in comparison to the cooks, waitstaff and others that will lose their jobs if the restaurant closes, Reynoso told the council.

Elsa Tung, the land use program manager for Long Beach Forward, which was hired by the city to help with a rezoning effort for the Central Long Beach area that includes Los Potros, pointed to a presentation given earlier Tuesday night for Black History Month, which detailed some of the historical racist and discriminatory zoning used to segregate communities of color in Long Beach.

Tung’s group was hired to help gather the community’s priorities for what should be allowed or disallowed along major corridors like PCH, Anaheim and 10th Street in the Zone In: City Core project.

“This automated car wash project, repeat, automated, as in very few jobs, flies in the face of all the amazing good faith community work that both Development Services and CBOS are doing for the City Core rezoning plan which will come before you at the end of this year,” Tung said.

While the zoning changes are not yet complete, Development Services Director Christopher Koontz said during the November Planning Commission meeting that based on what the city already completed with the UPLAN in North Long Beach, where car washes are not allowed even with a conditional permit, that the project would likely not be accepted.

“We haven’t finished the work on PCH and Anaheim, so all I can tell you is that based on the zoning on Atlantic and Artesia, the proposed project would not be consistent with the zoning,” Koontz said.

Koontz added that any developer’s project built before zoning changes go into effect would not need to be rebuilt to comply with new zoning, which could happen through the City Core process. But if the developer does nothing with the land before zoning changes, any project on the site would be beholden to the new rules, which might not allow a car wash.

Planning Commissioners rejected the conditional use permit that the car wash needs before it can be built in part because of the ongoing City Core project.

Councilmember Joni Ricks-Oddie, who previously served as the Planning Commission chair before being elected to the council in November, asked her fellow commissioners to consider the totality of the site, including the ongoing zone changes that could open it up for retail, housing or other uses in the future.

“Do you believe that this project in its current state is the highest and best use we possibly could have on that particular lot?” Ricks-Oddie said before voting to deny the permit.

Ricks-Oddie did not vote Tuesday night because she had to recuse herself due to her service on the Planning Commission.

The council will still have to vote on the terms of the conditional use permit before any construction can begin at the site, something that’s expected to happen later this year.

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