“Well this sure seems like a backhanded way to stop the people across the street from competing with you. I’m at a loss for words, I really am,” said Councilmember Scott Sherman on April 25.
Sherman was at a loss to fathom why an existing Arco gas station was forced to withdraw their application to add four fueling stations and a car wash. Per Sherman, their competitor (Chevron/Happy Car Wash), across the street, paid for a traffic study that contradicted the city’s findings — thus triggering a very expensive environmental review (about $500,000 said Sherman).
An expense that the applicant did not want to pay, said Francisco Mendoza, the city’s project manager. Mendoza said the city stands by their original assessment that the project wouldn’t add any significant impacts to traffic.
The problem, Mendoza said, was that city staff weren’t able to find any factual inaccuracies in the appellants' traffic report. He blamed published traffic analysis methods that are outdated.
The Arco gas station is located on the northwest corner of the busy intersection of Aero Drive and Murphy Canyon Road (3770 Murphy Canyon Road). The area is zoned for industrial and is jam-packed with businesses.
The project was pulled off the city council’s agenda in February and March by city staff. Councilmember Chris Cate demanded a memo from city staff about how this happened. Cate pointed to the applicant spending a considerable amount of time and money to get to this point only to have to pull the project because of an unexpected and expensive environmental investigation.
The application process for this project goes back to 2010. In October 2016, the planning commission unanimously approved the project after hearing testimony from five people in opposition. Most of the arguments pointed to traffic and noise — while more unique arguments suggested the project traffic might negatively impact those suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome as well as causing the death of grandparents heading to hospitals.
Every speaker in opposition mentioned the proposed car wash. Three of the speakers specifically mentioned the car wash across the street as a reason to veto the project.
Ninus Malan said he worked in a law office above the Arco station. He complained about not being able to talk outside with clients because of the noise from below. Mendoza confirmed Malan’s office building was between 70 to 90 feet above the existing Arco gas station (Ruffin/Aero). Charles Alexander said he used to live in the area and was speaking on behalf of military families.
Ninus Malan and Charles Alexander are both mentioned later as having a connection to the owner of Chevron/Happy Car Wash.
Not one of the speakers indicated they lived in the area — except Claus Norby. Though it turns out he lived in Bonita at the time – according to the appeal he filed in October against the planning commission’s approval of the Arco project. At the hearing, Norby said he was there on behalf of Stonecrest Village residents and the neighboring business park. He neglected to mention that Stonecrest Village is quite a distance from Arco and is actually closer to the Chevron/Happy Car Wash.
Norby neglected to mention the name of the business park he was representing. One logical guess is the Stonecrest Plaza where the Happy Car Wash resides at 3690 Murphy Canyon Road (across Aero Drive from Arco).
According to county and state documentation, Salam Razuki and Haith Razuki own Stonecrest Plaza — along with the car wash and gas station in the plaza. Lobbying documentation shows that Salam Ruzuki hired a lobbyist to persuade the mayor’s office, the development services department, and members of the city council to overturn the planning commission’s October decision.
I wasn’t able to definitively connect the dots between Norby and Razuki — other than accepting Sherman’s statement that the competitor (Chevron/Happy Car Wash) across the street (owned by Razuki) had paid for the dueling traffic report and Mendoza agreeing to this, as well as Mendoza stating that the appellant (Norby) had submitted the traffic report.
I was, however, able to possibly connect two opposition speakers, Charles Alexander and Ninus Malan, to Salam Razuki. Lobbying documentation from 2013 shows Malan and Razuki as joint-clients of the same lobbying firm appealing a different project. It looks like they were successful that time too, per city documentation. This documentation notes Alexander on the same coalition as Razuki
The planning commissioners didn’t appear to buy into much of what the opposition was selling at the October hearing.
Commissioner Doug Austin said, “I struggle with thinking that this [project] would impact traffic flow or noise in any significant way. There are no homes right next to this site, so I understand the concern, but I’m not buying it.”
He went on to say, “You have a planning group that voted 10 to nothing [in 2011] in favor of this project, so I don’t understand the outcry now.”
Austin also looked out into the audience and asked if there were any representatives from Happy Car Wash. There was no response.
The planning commission grilled city staff about noise and traffic and were satisfied that there wasn’t anything significant on either front. Mendoza even said the car wash was designed to be especially quiet.
Commissioner James Whalen said, “Unfortunately, it’s sort of an existing condition. It’s a 1990s state-of-the-art planning.”
He elaborated, “Aero Drive, down by the freeway, it might be eight lanes, maybe nine, with double-lefts, double-rights — it’s a zoo. And that’s the reason why it’s so loud, because there are so many lanes of traffic and there is a freeway going by too which is also busy — plus you have the landforms which force the noise to go up and it goes right into the ears of those that live in the area.”
I did touch base with Victor from Arco but he wasn’t sure about any specifics. When I contacted Chevron/Happy Car Wash and told them why I was calling, I was informed that all the owners were on vacation.
Why such cutthroat tactics to squash a competing car wash? It’s hard to know, but maybe there are clues in that car washes keep sprouting up and the recent reports of land purchases for millions to build car washes.