Mayor Jim Wood welcomes the Oceanside Soapy Joe’s in 2016.
"There have times when my customers can’t leave because the Soapy Joe's line of cars has taken over the entire parking lot. Their customers waiting in line often won't let anyone out of their parking space. They are completely screwing neighboring businesses and no one is doing anything about it. No one cares.”
While that business owner declined to be identified (“I don’t want to piss off anyone at the city”) the fact is employees or owners of five different businesses have signed a petition asking for some help from the City of Oceanside because of a hugely popular adjacent car wash that they say has overwhelmed their parking lot and hurt their business.
For $15 a month you can wash your car once a day for as many days as you want.
National City-based Soapy Joe’s is a homegrown success story, a family-owned countywide chain of 11 car washes launched by former car detailer Lorens Attisha. Three more Soapy Joe’s are planned for Poway, Vista and Temecula. The Oceanside Soapy Joe’s is in an Oceanside Boulevard strip mall called Greenbrier Square that includes two restaurants, a tattoo shop, a Jiffy Lube, and four other businesses.
At least four different car wash businesses occupied the Soapy Joe’s car wash building and lot from 1988 until Soapy Joe’s arrived in 2016. All previous car washes used workers to do the cleaning. With Soapy Joe’s you stay in the car during the automated wash and then dry and vacuum the car yourself at one of 16 outdoor bays. Key to Soapy Joe’s success is its price structure: For $15 a month you can wash your car once a day for as many days as you want.
Fifty-year Oceanside resident and former Camp Pendleton Marine Wally Stevens has spoken at city council and planning commission meetings about the “trainwreck” he says Soapy Joe’s has become. He says on sunny days the lines of cars waiting to get in to the car wash blocks customers from the other Greenbrier businesses, and the drying bays simply can’t keep up with the wet car demand. “Soapy Joe’s do-it-yourself model and its volume means it is unable to comply with the original permits granted 31 years ago,” says Stevens.“When the parking lot is filled up with their cars, firetrucks can’t get in.”
Edward Tan, manager of the Wienerschitzel, says the Greenbrier Square is no longer safe. “They speed off very fast,” says Tan about newly-cleaned Soapy Joe's cars. “They don’t have anybody guiding all their cars. This has become very dangerous.” And even though car wash people might also seem to be hot dog people, Tan says “If anything, it has hurt our business.”
“One of their managers, Michael Smith, told me two years ago that they were doing 500 to 600 cars a day, but that sometimes it would get as high as 1,000 a day,” says one neighborhood activist. “He said their goal was to regularly hit 1500 a day.”
Some 35 residents of the nearby Manzana Apartments and the five owners or managers of adjacent businesses (Wienerschnitzel, Frontline Tattoo, Fred Loya Insurance, Smog This and DV’s Cork & Tap) signed a petition saying that Soapy Joe’s has overwhelmed the Greenbrier Square footprint and that car wash customers are causing safety threats and/or are putting a dent in their business.
A different business owner who declines to be quoted says on sunny weekends his parking lot is a hellish menagerie of competing car speakers booming rap lyrics with “nigger” “fuck” and “whore.” “I really feel bad for the older people who used to come to shop at the thrift store but can’t find a spot to park or if they do, they are blocked by a non-stop parade of cars who won’t let them leave. And then they have to hear that awful rap.”
Stevens says he and a few other locals were amazed to see how the city of Oceanside has reacted to concerns over Soapy Joe’s. By using the freedom of information act, he and others uncovered inter-departmental emails sent between Oceanside officials that clearly show a concern city officials had with Soapy Joe’s.
Code enforcement officer Eileen Deptula said in April 2017 that Soapy Joe's just showed up with "...no plans. They just swooped in, added a gazillion outside vacuum stalls, eliminated a number of parking spaces…no wonder there are reports of customers parking in the fire lanes!” She wrote that the carwash installed upgrades that were never approved or permitted.
Parking enforcement officer Bryan Forward wrote in April 2018: “This business is an apples and oranges comparison to the numerous traditional car wash tenants who’ve occupied the space for almost 30 years. The sheer volume that their business model reflects appears untenable at this location given the mere space constraints. At high time there is simply not enough room for all of their customers without affecting adjacent business access and blocking the alleyway and ingress/egress to the adjacent apartments and the obvious impediment to emergency vehicles in the public alleyway.”
City traffic engineer David DiPierro suggested in April 2018, “If the weekends are as busy as the residents say they are, I would say they definitely have a legitimate beef and this business needs to improve on its overall circulation patterns or find another place to do its business in Oceanside.” He later wrote: “I drove by at 8 am Saturday and the place was packed.”
But three months later, Stevens says City officials took a major U-turn and in July of last year took on the role of Soapy Joe’s apologist. Instead of addressing the real problems, he says the city now wants to allow three more drying bays. And that to mitigate the concerns of the nearby apartment residents who say speeding cars are unsafe, He points out the city wants to erect a new eight-foot wood fence between Manzana Apartments and Greenbrier Square.
Wienerschnitzel’s Tan says he wishes Soapy Joe’s would just do what’s best for all adjoining businesses and move to a bigger site. “You have the former [California Highway Patrol] building a block away. It’s been vacant for a couple years, and now I hear it’s going to be a gas station. Why can’t they all work together and move it there?”
Attempts to speak with Soapy Joe’s Attisha and Oceanside planning official Jeff Hunt were not successful.