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H.B. delays limits on massage parlors

Professional organization offers to work with the city identify which establishments are legitimate and which are not.

June 06, 2012|By Mona Shadia

The Huntington Beach City Council stopped short this week of limiting the amount of massage parlors in the city after a professional group of masseurs allegedly threatened legal action and offered to help curb illegal activity by identifying illegitimate establishments.

The California Massage Therapy Council, or CAMTC, protested the council's proposed cap of 30 parlors, saying legitimate operators would be unfairly punished for the activities by the less scrupulous ones.

Council members had planned the vote Monday in hopes of combating allegations of prostitution and possible human trafficking. The city has around 60 parlors, but it is unclear exactly how many of them are engaged in potentially illegal activity.

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The proposed limits were meant as a temporary fix to limit the parlors' rapid growth and to address complaints, said Police Chief Ken Small.

The proposal was moved from the agenda, however, after the chief executive of CAMTC reportedly brought up the possibility of legally challenging the law.

City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said Ahmos Netanel told her that if Huntington Beach enacted its restrictions, his board would sue.

Small also confirmed the threat of legal action against the city.

Netanel, however, vehemently denied making the threat, saying his organization wants to work with local governments to protect the legitimate operators. His comments to city officials, he said, have been misinterpreted.

"What's important is that CAMTC and the city of Huntington Beach continue to work together to solve the issue of illicit massage establishments in the community," Netanel said in an email. "Our goals are the same."

The CAMTC, a private-public organization, works with law enforcement officials to enforce state laws and identify victims of human trafficking, Netanel said.

Of Surf City's 62 massage parlors, 20 advertise on websites associated with prostitution, according to a city staff report.

In the month of May alone, a record 24 independent massage therapists went to the city to obtain a full-service massage license, Small said.

An investigation earlier this year led to five prostitution arrests, and a May 5 inspection revealed close to 100 city code violations at 17 of the 19 inspected parlors.

Employees performing massages with clients' genitalia exposed and a lack of proper licenses were among the violations.

Some of the business advertise on backpage.com, an online classifieds website that features ads suggesting prostitution as well as legal services.

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