Despite recommendations from the city’s Planning Commission, Long Beach City Council approved a permit for yet another car wash along Pacific Coast Highway on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
The Star Express Car Wash, which was unanimously granted a Conditional Use Permit by the council, will be the 11th car wash facility along PCH and adjacent streets, all within eight miles of each other. The nearest automated car wash site is less than half a mile away from the approved Star Express Car Wash.
The Planning Commission denied the developer’s request for a permit on Nov. 3, 2022, stating that a car wash in the West Long Beach area did not align with the city’s most recent General Plan Land Use due to the “overconcentration of car washes” and possible increases to traffic.
Over 30 community members as well as city developers called for the site to be rezoned for affordable housing or community commercial use. The legal term means that developers would only be considered if they are suggesting restaurants, cafes, retail shops, fitness centers or other community-based, pedestrian-friendly resources.
The site is currently privately owned and occupied by a nightclub and restaurant, Los Potros.
“The AOC7 organization opposes the addition of yet another car wash along the intersection of PCH and Cherry [Avenue],” said Rocio Torres, a member of the Anaheim, Orange, Cherry and Seventh Street neighborhood group. “We are a highly impacted urban district which is in need of affordable housing, greater walkability and more green spaces. Our neighborhood needs commercial storefronts like grocery stores with healthier food choices. Our neighborhood doesn’t need another car wash.”
The area along PCH is currently undergoing a rezoning process deemed Zone in: City Core, which began last year. The neighborhoods are still undergoing the review process, following months of meetings with the community, and have not yet been rezoned to “support the development of new housing and a greater mix of uses.”
The Planning Commission recommended that council update the zoning regulations for the site to allow for community commercial developments in the area, which would fall in line with the Zone in: City Core goals. It is likely that once the area is rezoned, a car wash facility would not be approved under the new regulations.
In fact, the site is already not zoned for a car wash, which is why the developers had to request a Conditional Use Permit. City council approved the rezoning recommendation, but overturned the Planning Commission’s decision to deny a permit.
SM Wash, the company in charge of the proposed car wash facility, gave a verbal commitment of “benefits” it will provide the city with if the permit was granted. The benefits included: ensuring employees at the existing nightclub have the opportunity to apply for “project jobs”; giving preference to residents for “project jobs”; a financial commitment to Transformational Living Homes; security and safety enhancements to [the] Chittick field area “and other community sites”; support for youth football programs at Chittick field; parking accommodations for the adjacent Buddhist temple “outside of project operating hours.”
“I believe approving the car wash project would create a foundation for future projects and keep the area clean and presentable,” said resident Joshua Lopez. “It will also open jobs for other citizens and students of Long Beach. This project will provide a spark for new economic investment in the surrounding area and businesses, which it hasn’t had for many years.”
Representatives from Star Express Car Wash argued that the existing nightclub Los Potros is a “blight” on the neighborhood, as it has received 43 calls to the police department in the last six years. Former city manager Pat West advocated for the car wash, calling it a “catalyst for future investment” that will create jobs for residents.
West’s presentation stated that the car wash could create up to “145 indirect jobs,” though the report from SM Wash listed a little over 50 jobs, including the 10 positions required to run the car wash daily.
“We are a highly impacted urban district which is in need of affordable housing, greater walkability and more green spaces. Our neighborhood needs commercial storefronts like grocery stores with healthier food choices. Our neighborhood doesn’t need another car wash.”
Rocio Torres, a member of the Anaheim, Orange, Cherry and Seventh Street neighborhood group.
The car wash will require a new driveway to be built along Gardenia Avenue, 18 stalls for vacuuming and a 100-foot car wash tunnel. Vehicles would exit through an alley during the hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
“No disrespect to you mister city manager, but you had 12 years of maintained blight [at the location] and then you go into the private sector and say, ‘Hey I have a solution.’ Where was your solution for the 12 years that you were city manager,” resident Senay Kenfe asked.
Planning Bureau Manager Alison Spindler-Ruiz said that city staff “found the car wash to not be consistent with our General Plan and Land Use Element,” but admitted that it “would be an improvement over the existing aging building.”
Since the building is privately owned, the City cannot decide what gets built on the site, but can rezone it to only allow certain types of projects. Spindler said that “at the time, there’s no other proposals for the property. It’s likely we’re going to see the site utilized as is if this is denied.”
One goal of the updated Land Use Policy is to avoid projects that “result in an inequitable environmental burden on low-income or minority neighborhoods,” according to section 14.3 of the policy. CalEnviroScreen found that the areas along PCH already suffer from some of the highest levels of pollution in the city, while neighborhoods directly to the east have some of the lowest levels of pollution in the city.
“Don’t listen to the argument that this will provide jobs and don’t listen to the argument that some development is better than no development,” said Elsa Tung, program manager with Long Beach Forward. “You don’t hear the former city manager and now lobbyist Pat West making this patronizing, fear-mongering argument in the wealthier, whiter East Long Beach or Bixby Knolls do you? You hear it in the systematically disadvantaged communities of color in Central, West and North Long Beach.”
West said that the site could not be used for affordable housing, though the Planning Commission stated in its report that rezoning the site would allow for a maximum of 24 residential units, either as apartments or condominium buildings.
Councilwoman Suely Saro made the motion to approve the permit, “given the information shared by staff and the opportunity presented between what [the site] is now and what it will continue to be if we don’t take the opportunity to do something with the space at the moment.”
Council unanimously approved the Conditional Use Permit for the Star Express Car Wash.