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Citrus Heights bans new massage permits; cites prostitution

Neon sign, massage sauna 2005. Photo credit, Justin Cormack
Neon sign, massage sauna, 2005. Photo credit, Justin Cormack (cc-by-sa-2.0)

Following undercover sting operations in the past month resulting in two arrests for prostitution, Citrus Heights council members unanimously passed an “urgency ordinance” last week declaring a 45-day moratorium on most new massage parlors, citing the need for “detailed study of possible adverse affects” and time to pass new comprehensive regulations in light of a new state law.

“[T]he city council finds that the establishment of new, and the relocation or expansion of existing, massage establishments or businesses offering related services prior to the completion of the City’s review poses a threat to the public health, safety and welfare,” a portion of the new ordinance reads, citing instances of prostitution, risk of blight and “other illegal activity” at massage establishments in the past.

[Update: “Citrus Heights extends massage moratorium thru 2015″]

In addition to receiving numerous complaints, City staff said code enforcement inspections at local massage establishments also found cases of unlicensed therapists, locks on massage room doors, and “inappropriately dressed” therapists.

Additionally, Community and Economic Development Director Rhonda Sherman told council members that Citrus Heights has more than doubled its massage parlor establishments, going from 20 in 2008 up to almost 50, with another two “in the pipeline.”

Sherman’s report brought strong reaction from at least one council member, as well as a comment from the police chief.

“Did I hear the numbers correct? I mean we’re 15-and-a-half square miles, 84,000 people — did I hear you say 50, as in roughly ‘five-zero’?” council member Jeff Slowey asked Sherman. “I think that’s plenty of helping hands in this city right now… that’s just ridiculous.”

Citrus Heights Police Chief Christopher Boyd affirmed Slowey’s comments, calling the steep rise in massage parlors “outrageous,” adding the urgency ordinance was “very necessary.”

“We have way, way more than really anyone we compare with,” Chief Boyd said regarding the number of local massage parlors compared to other cities, although stating he wasn’t sure why. “We need to change this back to local control so we can get a handle on it.”

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The temporary ban comes in anticipation of AB 1146, set to take effect January 1, which returns much of the discretionary power cities and counties once had to regulate massage parlors. According to City Attorney Ruthann Ziegler, this regulatory power of cities was taken away by the legislature with the passage of SB 731 in 2008, and city leaders across the state blame the law for the proliferation of massage parlors in recent years.

The temporary ordinance acknowledges “most massage establishments throughout the City are operated lawfully and professionally,” and contains over a page of exceptions to the ban, including massage for athletic or physician-related purposes and an allowance for existing massage establishments to renew their permits.

The ban will expire on January 25, but staff said they anticipate requesting an extension to allow time for further study and passage of a comprehensive new ordinance.

Folsom and Elk Grove also passed similar moratoriums last week, as have other cities across the state.

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