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Monterey Park adopts permit requirements for massage parlors

Cities across the San Gabriel Valley are placing tighter controls on massage businesses

Monterey Park will require all new massage businesses to obtain permits to operate under an ordinance adopted Wednesday night.

The move is the latest in a series of tighter local controls on massage parlors adopted this year by San Gabriel Valley cities following a 2014 amendment to state law that restored some control of massage-related businesses to cities.

The ordinance takes effect next month.

Across the region, cities such as Arcadia, San Gabriel, Alhambra and Diamond Bar have proposed or adopted tighter restrictions on new massage businesses this year. The Monterey Park City Council also decided Wednesday to explore a moratorium on new massage businesses.

There are 11 businesses identifying as massage parlors in Monterey Park on their city licenses; several more could be operating under other business license categories, council members said.

City staff had previously estimated that there were at least 24 massage businesses in Monterey Park, but the actual number is unclear, said Michael Huntley, director of community and economic development. Chiropractor offices and nail and beauty salons could also be harboring illicit massage activity, he added.

Many of the new restrictions employed by cities, including Monterey Park, require massage businesses to obtain conditional-use permits, a process that costs about $2,000 and typically requires approval by a city commission. 

Monterey Park, like many other cities, already had laws requiring conditional-use permits for massage businesses. But a 2011 amendment to a state law prevented cities from requiring those permits for massage businesses with employees certified by the California Massage Therapy Council, a nonprofit created to certify and perform background checks on masseuses. 

In several cities across the state, the result was a sharp and sudden increase in the number of new massage businesses. The majority of Monterey Park's massage parlors most likely opened up under the looser restrictions, Huntley said. 

He acknowledged that the massage boom is much more pronounced in surrounding cities. In San Gabriel, for example, the number of massage business more than doubled after 2011, for a total of 59 operating in a city of just four square miles, according to city officials there.

"We've had some problems, but nothing significant," Huntley said.

Residents often see massage parlors as community blights because they harbor prostitution. But officials say there's no way to determine what proportion of the businesses are legitimate massage therapy providers.

Online erotic massage review websites list dozens of San Gabriel Valley businesses, but city and law enforcement officials cannot act against a business unless they gather evidence of illicit activity via sting operations or periodic inspections.

Monterey Park Police Chief Jim Smith said he could not recall any recent arrests at the city's 11 massage parlors, but there have been several arrests over the past few years in surrounding cities.

For more San Gabriel Valley news, follow me @frankshyong.

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