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The Political Landscape:

Law could preempt parlor ban

Costa Mesa rushes to change its laws governing massage parlor licensing in anticipation of a state law that takes effect next month.

August 19, 2009|By Alan Blank and Brianna Bailey

Before Costa Mesa’s City Council extended the citywide moratorium on new massage licenses to a full year Tuesday night, several massage business owners spoke out against the ban.

Kathy Flippin, whose massage practice Dynamic Touch is new in town, said that she signed a two-year lease on her office space with the idea of expanding to meet growing demand. Now that growth has been prohibited, she says it could become harder to pay the bills.

Flippin and her staff do a lot of specialty massage for pregnant women, post-surgery patients and the elderly. With such a niche field, she said it is very difficult to find qualified masseuses, and now it will be even more difficult.

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“The moratorium ties my hands just as I’m getting off the ground,” she said.

Another problem with the temporary ban on new licenses is that it will limit the employment options for students graduating from massage school after spending thousands of dollars, others said.

Costa Mesa’s legal authorities want the moratorium so that they can change city laws to make it easier to crack down on prostitution operations that disguise themselves as massage businesses.

Given the city’s abnormally high concentration of massage parlors compared with surrounding cities — there are 54 non-chiropractic massage parlors within the city limits — police say that it would take the department’s whole Special Enforcement Detail working full time on just massage businesses to adequately regulate them.

One unknown in the process, however, is how long it will take the state to start issuing licenses of its own. A state law passed last year, Senate Bill 731, created a body that has been charged with licensing massage practitioners statewide.

The state certifications, once they are issued, will override specific city regulations.

The bill’s goal is to create a set, unified standard for massage licenses to neutralize the vagaries imposed on the controversial business by different cities.

If the state starts handing out certifications in the next couple months, then the moratorium extension could be rendered mostly moot as far as individual, new massage practitioners are concerned.

How it will affect new massage businesses is a more complex issue.

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