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Huntington Beach imposes moratorium on new massage parlors

In Huntington Beach, the number of massage parlors climbed from just eight in 2009 to 74 by 2014

Huntington Beach city leaders have imposed a 45-day moratorium of new massage parlors in the beach town after the number of massage business skyrocketed from eight to 74 in a five-year span.

The moratorium approved this week takes effect immediately and is designed to give the city and its police department time to develop a new massage parlor ordinance and crack down on crime sometimes associated with the businesses, such as prostitution and human trafficking.

Huntington Beach is among a growing list of cities that have slapped moratoriums on new massage businesses, which began to multiply quickly after the state's Massage Therapy Reform Act was adopted in 2008. That law precluded cities from treating massage parlor differently from any other professional service business, such as barber shops and beauty salons.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation restoring the right of cities to regulate the businesses.

Dozens of California cities, from San Rafael to Tustin, have imposed moratoriums on new massage businesses in recent months.

In Huntington Beach, the number of massage parlors exploded after the act was approved, climbing from just eight in 2009 to 74 by 2014. There are now 64 massage businesses in the city, officials said.

"The Police Department is a little bit nervous about a wave of illicit massage parlors trying to get in before the [revised] ordinance kicks in," Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy said. "The 45 days gives us a pause, so to speak, to get a more quality ordinance to you, more well thought out instead of rushing it."

Handy said police will talk with massage business operators about any concerns regarding new regulations. He said officials hope to present the council with a proposed ordinance in about two weeks.

During a Feb. 17 study session, police and Planning Department officials pitched several ideas to the City Council on ways to strengthen the law on massage establishments.

Police recommended changing requirements for a registration certificate to include a diagram of the business configuration, information about the manager, separate applications for each owner of the business, a limit on operating hours and a prohibition on sexually suggestive advertising, condoms and other adult items.

The Planning Department suggested requiring massage parlors to apply for a conditional use permit and be at least 1,000 feet apart.

Carpio writes for Times Community News.

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