After public outcry over a proposed ordinance to place greater restrictions on massage businesses to combat suspected prostitution, the city of Paso Robles is taking a fresh look at the issue.
“I think we’ve made it so that the people who are not involved with illicit crimes are pleased and don’t feel intimated or feel like they’re being punished for someone else’s mistakes,” Mayor Duane Picanco said Monday.
Last year, the Paso Robles Police Department asked the City Council to adopt new rules in the city’s business license division that would have increased oversight on new and existing massage establishments. The suggested changes ranged from tacking on new fees for business inspections, conducting background checks and requiring that professional attire be worn.
But massage therapists fought back, saying they were being unfairly targeted. That prompted the council in October to send the ordinance back for more public input before it could be considered again.
The newest proposal, which will be presented tonight, includes 19 changes from the original.
For example, a $45 business inspection fee was dropped, lighting requirements were simplified and there are no longer additional rules for massage therapists certified with the state.
For noncertified business owners looking to employ certified therapists, fees for a background check and fingerprinting are still required.
The so-called illicit businesses fronting as massage parlors have caused issues in Paso Robles in recent years.
Business licensing in the city is currently structured so anyone can set up shop, which poses problems for police officers who get complaints about sexual activity and human trafficking at some of the establishments.
Unless police catch someone in the act of having sex in exchange for money, officers have very few methods to stop such illegal practices. And, surprise raids that only turn up code-
enforcement crimes — such as employees living at a business — are a drain on resources, police said.
“We certainly want it to make it more difficult for those illicit businesses to operate in Paso,” police Lt. Ty Lewis said. “We just want the proper tools to help make that happen.”
Requiring state certification at the city’s business license division was identified as one way to deter offending businesses. When a business doesn’t comply with state requirements — by using illicit advertising, for instance — its license can be pulled from the city with the new law.
“We’re not on a vendetta, but we don’t want the prostitution part to be a part of Paso Robles,” Picanco said.