Two massage parlors in Los Banos have recently been shut down because of code violations and suspicion of prostitution, according to law enforcement officials, and the Los Banos City Council took steps Wednesday to strengthen their outdated policies.
The council unanimously approved an ordinance that set stricter regulations on massage parlors and massage therapists. Among other regulations, massage therapists will be required to be certified by the California Massage Therapy Council and register with the city annually.
The ordinance also enforces stricter hours massage parlors can be open, banning 24 hour establishments along with provocative advertising.
The city will ultimately gain more control over massage parlors, according to William Vaughn, the city attorney.
Suspicion of prostitution has been an issue with massage parlors in the city, Los Banos Police Department Sgt. Jesse Ceja said. Having tighter regulations on massage parlors will help law enforcement crack down on the issue and enforce violations, he added.
Police found drugs and some code violations in some of the recent massage parlors that shut down, he said.
“They don’t admit to it, but a lot of those businesses are linked together,” Ceja said.
The last time the city updated its regulations was in 1997, and “they’re not very strong,” said Stacy Souza Elms, community and economic development director for city.
The city “definitely” has had health and safety issues with massage parlors and want to strengthen the policies “to ensure that massage establishment are operating properly within our community,” Souza Elms said.
“We want to prevent these places from being underground breeding places for bad activity,” she added, like prostitution and human trafficking.
Although, while the city is working to strengthen regulations on massage parlors, one man was caught in the middle of trying to keep his massage parlor running and a moratorium the city issued.
On Nov. 1, 2017 the city issued a moratorium that temporarily prohibits the approval of business licenses for massage parlors until they update policies. Sefen Liu’s business license for his massage parlor on J Street, China Massage, was suspended in late November 2017 because of the moratorium.
Liu tried to appeal the decision of his suspended business license Wednesday, and said, through an interpreter, China Massage is necessary for his survival. He told the council he works hard to make a living and has invested $20,000 into the business.
However, the council unanimously voted to deny his appeal and suspend his business license until the moratorium is lifted.
The Building Department found “outstanding” health and safety issues with the building and Liu didn’t have all the proper permits needed, Souza Elms said.
The ordinance passed will be adopted on Feb. 7 and the moritorium will be lifted 10 months and 15 days from Dec. 6 of last year.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486, @monicavelez21