Paso Robles mulls ordinance for massage businesses

Police invite residents to workshop to discuss proposed regulations to fight suspected prostitution

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comJuly 13, 2012 

A proposed ordinance to combat suspected prostitution in Paso Robles will be the topic of a public workshop scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Police Department.

Police want feedback on the ordinance, which would increase oversight on new and existing massage establishments within the city, some of which police suspect are fronts for prostitution.

If adopted by the Paso Robles City Council, the ordinance would require massage therapists to be licensed by the state. It would also require shops to comply with a host of other new rules, such as clothing requirements for employees and background checks for massage shop owners not licensed as therapists, among other new rules.

Paso Robles requires business licenses for companies in the city, and tacking on extra regulations to certain businesses is not uncommon. For example, the city has existing extended oversight of taxi services, gambling establishments and food vendors, among others.

Prostitution is a tricky crime to prove, police said. In February, the Paso Robles police conducted a surprise raid on various massage establishments in an attempt to combat the problems with tactics such as immigration checks. The raid ended with no arrests, but two citations were issued to one business for failing to require its employees to have independent contractor licenses.

The raid, along with previous investigations, illustrated the challenges associated with proving prostitution occurred. Confirming the crime was committed is often based on circumstantial evidence and innuendo, police have said.

Police can go undercover to catch prostitutes, but it’s unethical for police to commit sexual acts or other explicit actions, Lt. Ty Lewis said. And, massage employees are often savvy to police attempts at catching them and often require touching or exposing oneself before negotiating service prices, he added.

Prostitution has been an ongoing issue in the city in recent years. About four years ago, a Paso Robles massage establishment’s business license wasn’t renewed after a plumber found its pipes clogged with condoms and reported it to police.

Since then, various complaints and suggestive online advertisements have caught authorities’ attention.

Monday’s workshop, at the department’s Emergency Operations Center at 900 Park St., will give the public a chance to discuss the ordinance before a final law is crafted for the City Council to consider in the coming months.

“This critical feedback will aid with revising the ordinance as necessary,” according to a statement from the city.

A digital copy of the ordinance is available for review at SanLuisObispo.com. The public can also give their input about the ordinance in an online survey on the city’s website, www.prcity.com. It can be found on the Police Department’s page under the “Proposed Massage Ordinance” link on the right-hand side. The survey feedback will be emailed directly to police.

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