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New Times / News

The following article was posted on May 16th, 2012, in the New Times - Volume 26, Issue 42 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 26, Issue 42

Paso aims to come down hard on seedy massage parlors

By NICK POWELL

Paso Robles Mayor Duane Picanco and Councilman Fred Strong will chair an ad hoc committee tasked with passing an ordinance that would regulate massage parlors and help put an end to “happy endings.”

The decision was made May 15 after Lt. Ty Lewis of the Paso Robles Police Department told the City Council that Paso has a prostitution problem—and the police have ideas on how to address it.

There are 31 businesses providing massage services in Paso Robles, and Lewis suspects that roughly a third are fronts for prostitution. Some advertise explicit services online. Some refer to themselves as “erotic massage.”

Lewis said that the Police Department first began investigating the issue in 2007, when a plumber told them he pulled dozens of condoms from a clogged drain in one massage parlor. Reports of illicit activity have steadily increased since then. The police have attempted numerous stings but have made no arrests, Lewis said. Police would need to catch someone in the act to press charges.

“We can send an officer in to ask for a hand job, but most of these people are pretty savvy,” Lewis said.

Lewis suggested that the city require masseuses to undergo training and be certified by the California Massage Therapy Council. As written, the rules would regulate advertising, implement a professional dress code in the workplace, and forbid interior doors from locking. Business owners who hire certified employees but have no massage training themselves would be subject to background checks.

“All you need now is a business license,” Lewis told New Times. “You could open shop today and call it ‘John’s Massage.’”

Several people at the City Council meeting expressed concerns that an ordinance would unfairly restrict the operations of law-abiding businesses. They encouraged the ad hoc committee to get ample input from massage therapists.

“We create these laws because someone has done something unacceptable,” Picanco said, “but they impact the innocent as well.”

Two massage providers who attended were in favor of the ordinance, saying they hoped it would legitimize their practices.

“I get phone calls all the time asking if we do what they do in Paso,” said Sharon Rae, a massage therapist based in Atascadero.

Lewis doubts the ordinance would eradicate prostitution entirely, but he said it’s necessary for officers to address the problem. San Luis Obispo has a similar ordinance, while Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, and Morro Bay run applicants through police background checks. In Atascadero, a certified masseuse can get a license to operate a salon, while uncertified service providers can get a license to operate an “adult oriented business,” which would be restricted from operating near schools or churches.