The owner of a dog-washing business formerly located at Arroyo Burro Beach is suing Santa Barbara County, alleging it took over the business, keeping a building he built with his own money and is now charging double.
Ed Bertling is the owner of Monarch Pet Spas, which formerly operated self-serve dog washes at three county parks, including Waller Park in Santa Maria, Lookout Park in Summerland and at Arroyo Burro Beach, its busiest location.
He said he plans to sue the county in federal court for seizing private property without just cause. He is asking for $2 million.
County officials claim that Bertling fell behind on his rent of the location and had no choice but to terminate his contract. They've taken over the Arroyo Burro Beach dog wash, all the proceeds of which now go to the parks department budget.
Bertling said he's been trying to sit down with county officials for months to negotiate, but has heard nothing from them nor county Supervisor Janet Wolf, in whose district the dog wash sits.
Bertling admits he did fall behind on payments — his wife, who does the bookkeeping, had a stroke — but that he has made good since.
"I paid them in full, then they turned around and said, 'We don't care. We're still going to kick you out and take it over,' and that's what they did," he said.
Bertling said the county has put in its own equipment and is running the dog wash, but there is a minimum of $10, whereas Bertling used to charge about $5, and turned over 20 percent of his profits to the county as the cost of operating in the location.
"They took my equipment out but kept my buildings," he said, estimating that he spent about $250,000 of his own money to build the structure in which the dog wash still sits.
"I have had at least 40 calls from dog owners boycotting it," he said, adding that many people just want to rinse their dogs off, which cost $2.50 under the former system. "They can't seize private property without just cause. Are they going to take over the Boathouse [Restaurant] and have park rangers flipping burgers? I know they're hurting for money. … Somebody behind a desk thought they had a great idea."
In the meantime, Bertling said he is opening 12 more operations across Southern California, "and we're welcome in these communities."
Renee Bahl, interim community services director for the county, confirmed that the county opened a new station for the public to use at Arroyo Burro Beach.
It's been up and running for about two weeks, and "it's quite popular," she said. "Unfortunately, we had to terminate Mr. Bertling's contract due to nonpayment of rent," adding that his claims he was paid up are "not according to our ledgers."
Bahl said the county was using the structure Bertling had constructed, but had given him six months to remove his property from his three dog wash locations.
"He never removed anything, and the public wanted a dog wash," she said, adding that he still has unused equipment at Waller and Lookout parks that have yet to be removed.
It's $10 for 10 minutes, she said, and the money helps pay for park operations.
"We're getting an average of about 10 washes a day, and that will just increase as we move into the summer months," she said.