Citizens prompt Paso to retool its massage ordinance



New regulations intended to help Paso Robles police bust prostitution rings disguised as massage parlors were scheduled to receive final approval Oct. 2, but concerned practitioners pulled the ordinance from the consent calendar and convinced the city council to consider changes to its language.

People who spoke expressed worries that the ordinance’s fee structure was overly burdensome, that a prohibition against locked doors at massage parlors could impinge on legitimate privacy expectations, and that language forbidding the massage of women’s breasts could outlaw valid medical procedures like lymphatic drainage massage.

“I know the intention of the rule, but it’s setting people up—who are referred by doctors in some cases—to be breaking the rules,” local massage therapist Elena Reynolds said.

Paso Robles Police Department Lt. Ty Lewis agreed that the fee structure needed revising but urged the council to approve the rest of the law. New ordinances require 30 days after approval to take effect, and he promised to provide a fairer fee system before the council before that time. He said the department needs the ordinance to address a serious problem that’s been a long time coming in the city.

“Our opinion is that the ordinance is well-crafted and ready for review tonight,” Lewis said.

The council was overwhelmingly swayed by public comments, but councilman Nick Gilman, who said prostitution casts a pall on the downtown area, wanted to see the new rules take effect. He said the council could revisit the issue after a year and see if any legitimate massage therapists ran into serious problems.

“I appreciate all the people who came out to speak tonight, but a lot of the comments don’t make any sense,” Gilman said.

Councilman Fred Strong disagreed.

“I don’t want to pass something that’s going to be unjust for legitimate businesses,” he said.

In the end, the council postponed adoption until its Nov. 1 meeting and encouraged massage therapists to work with City Attorney Iris Yang during the interim so that a satisfying compromise can be reached.

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