Washing the Car in Your Driveway? You Could Be Fined

Little-known Belmont ordinance prohibits the washing of vehicles in driveways or roadways if the water flows into the gutter and storm drain.


There is a new Belmont ordinance that prohibits the washing of vehicles in driveways or roadways if the water flows into the roadway gutter and down the storm drain.

Belmont resident Vic Trierweiler recently found out about that ordinance while washing his car in front of his home on Coronet Boulevard.  A truck pulled up  and gave him a verbal and written warning stating that it is unlawful to wash vehicles in driveways where the water flows to the street.

"I was informed that the next time I was caught 'washing my vehicle,' that I would be fined up to $500 and/or face up to six months in prison," said Trierweiler, clearly shocked that something he had been doing for years could possibly be against the law.

But it is the law says John Tallitsch, construction inspector for the Belmont Public Works Department. He cited the Belmont municipal code Sec. 21-193  that states that is unlawful to deposit anything down the storm drain. "Only rain to the drain," is the rule of thumb Tallitsch explained.

The code, which is based on the municipal regional storm water NPDES permit with the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, prohibits residents from allowing any substances from their property to enter the storm drain.

Tallistsch and public works crews refer to the San Mateo County Water Pollution Prevention Program, known as www.flowstobay.org, when explaining to residents why the runoff from an at-home car wash is a hazard to the region's water system.

According to flowstobay.org, storm drains located on roadways lead directly into local waterways. When motor fluids or dirty water from car washing are dumped into the storm drain, it pollutes the water.

"I have made a conscious effort to use biodegradable soap as to minimize the impact on the environment," said Trierweiler. But as Tallitch explains, it's not just about soap---brake dust, oil, copper and other debris that comes off a car, truck, or boat are also mixed into the washwater.

Discount cards for local commercial car washes are available at the Public Works Department, but that didn't appease Trierweiler.

"How is it possible that our society has come to the point where we cannot even wash our vehicles on our private property and are required to go pay for it to be done?" asked Trierweiler.

Although warnings have been issued, Tallitch says that the city has not yet had to fine anyone.

For those who choose to wash their vehicles (or any other items for that matter) on their property, Tallitch says it is permissible if the washwater goes directly into the grass or gravel, or if can be diverted into the landscaping and prevented from flowing into the gutter and storm drain.

Residents have been fined for allowing concrete slurry and loose fill dirt flow into the storm drains. Pool and hot tub drainage into the storm drain is also prohibited said Tallitch.

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Denny Lawhern May 12, 2012 at 06:50 PM
The Planning Commission and Council are responsible for knowing what is going on in Belmont and with the City Ordinances . If the City staff decides to enforce this kind of requirement without a note to the Commission and Council then they need to be fired!!!. There was no excuse for the City Council not to Know about this.
Maria Esteban May 12, 2012 at 11:25 PM
What is the hysteria here? The guy got a warning, not a fine, not an arrest. It took the city employee about five minutes in the course of his duties - not exactly a big time suck for the government. I bet you don't put soap or toxins in the food that you eat. Why is it ok for you to put this on the fish I eat? How about taking some personal responsibility instead of whining whenever the government asks you to do the right thing? If you weren't dumping your waste in the Bay, we wouldn't need the government to step in. You have no one to blame but your lazy and obstinate selves.
Drew & Christine Morgan, REALTORS® July 21, 2012 at 06:17 PM
I think we’re done with this. Now we can move on to warning everyone who has a curbside drain to handle the rain from their roof via gutters and downspouts.
Jaye Howard January 21, 2013 at 12:08 AM
I think it's absolutely stupid and ridiculous... I could understand if you are dumping wastes or toxic hazardous materials yes I agree but car washing soaps have come along way from years ago and they are actually safer for the environment..... but then again Belmont CA has a lot of stupid city policies and rules ! You can also chalk this up to a police department who has too much time on their hands if they are fining you for washing your car over fining people for running stop signs......
Cheryll April 15, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Of course we should do what we can to protect our waterways, regardless of who else does or doesn't comply, including Mother Nature. Should we knowingly compound the problem when there are other avenues to get the job done? I, too, enjoy washing my own car and thought that by using a biodegradable, organic detergent, that would solve the problem. I guess if I need to, I'll wash it in the yard instead and water the nonexistent grass, which does not have pesticides sprayed on it by the way. ;)


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