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City postpones vote on capping massage parlors in Citrus Heights

By Phillip Pesola–
Following discussion and input from the public during a hearing at City Hall on Thursday, the Citrus Heights City Council opted to postpone a vote on a proposal designed to address a rapid increase in massage establishments in the city and curb concerns of illicit activity at such businesses.

Senior Planner Alison Bermudez presented the details of the proposed changes to the council during the April 13 council meeting.

The presentation gave an overview of proposed amendments to Article 8 of Chapter 22 of the Citrus Heights Municipal Code concerning massage establishments. Bermudez said the purpose of the update is to support legitimate massage therapists, implement operational restrictions to reduce illicit activity, and lessen the resources used by the city to process new licenses.

Bermudez said massage therapy as a legitimate business provides health benefits such as stress reduction, pain relief, and improved immune function. However, she pointed out that some establishments have been found to engage in illicit activities. Common indicators of such activities include locked doors, covered windows, no paperwork or pricing, and cash-only transactions, she said.

Key proposed amendments include a cap on the number of establishments, amending visibility requirements, allowing video surveillance, and revising the application process. The cap aims to address the rising number of establishments in the city, which nearly doubled over the past few years — increasing from 16 in 2019 to 29 in 2023.

The cap would be set at one establishment per 3,400 people, allowing for 25 locations. Existing establishments in good standing would not be affected by the cap and could continue to operate. A “public necessity” exception would also allow the council to approve requests that would exceed the licensing cap on a case-by-case basis.

Bermudez said Citrus Heights currently has a much higher concentration of massage establishments than several nearby cities. She said Citrus Heights has 1 massage establishment per 2,978 persons, whereas Elk Grove has 1 per 13,613 persons and Rancho Cordova has 1 per 11,480 persons.

Additional amendments include ensuring exterior doors remain unlocked (except for single-operator establishments) and allowing video surveillance in non-treatment areas for security purposes. The proposal also includes provisions for establishments to relocate due to uncontrollable circumstances or lease terminations.

Community outreach efforts were conducted, with feedback from massage therapists, business owners, and property owners incorporated into the amendments. The proposed changes from city staff were said to align with the City Council’s strategic goals of enhancing community vibrancy, engaging the community, and preserving public safety.

During the public hearing, a local massage therapist said she believed the new changes would harm local businesses and said she wanted to see an exemption for sole practitioners, which she said are rarely located in shopping centers and do “a different type of work” than most massage locations.

“Rather than attack and deter legitimate business, the city should be enforcing the laws already on the books regarding prostitution and human trafficking,” she said.

Following the presentation and public comment, Councilman Bret Daniels asked about home-based businesses and received clarification that the amendment would not apply to them. He also expressed concern that the amendment might be overly restrictive, saying, “I think we just need to be very careful that we’re not disturbing legitimate business practices.”

Daniels also advocated that massage businesses owned and operated by only one person should be exempt from the cap, whether they operate out of their homes or not.

Councilwoman Jayna Karpinski-Costa agreed with Daniels that there should be an exception for sole operators.

Mayor Tim Schaefer concluded council comments in sharing his concern about the wording of the ordinance and how it would be applied.

“I would say that I’m still a little fuzzy on how this is going to get applied, who it gets applied to, and I want to make sure it’s applied to everyone equally,” said Schaefer. “So at this point, I’m not sure that we have the right ordinance yet… I’d like to work on it a little bit more and take it up at another time.”

The council’s 25-minute consideration of the proposal concluded with direction to city staff to revise the proposal and present it again at a future meeting.

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