An urgency ordinance recommended by the Oakdale Police Department that would have put a temporary 45-day moratorium on new massage parlors from opening was held over by the Oakdale City Council on Monday night, June 1, after a local Realtor and spa owner advised members that they were days away from opening a “professional” facility.
The ordinance, which also restricted the relocation or expansion of existing massage parlors, was called for by the police department to give them time to develop a regular city ordinance to deal with the criminal element that uses these businesses that operate them as a front for prostitution and human trafficking.
The action comes just two weeks after police busted an Asian masseuse at Island Spa on East F Street after an undercover officer was propositioned for a sex act.
On April 29, The Leader also had published an article exposing the suspected prostitution activities by Island Spa when its reporter went into the facility for a massage and was solicited by a worker.
According to police, Island Spa closed its doors after the bust.
During the agenda presentation to the council, Lieutenant Keri Redd, appearing for the vacationing police chief, Lester Jenkins, stated the police department has seen a rise in complaints of massage establishments when normally the department would receive one or less in the same time period.
Chief Jenkins, in his staff report, also stated the city has received an application for a business license for another massage establishment that wishes to relocate from Modesto, which if approved, has the potential to double the number of complaints related to these types of businesses.
“The continued creation and operation of many new massage parlors prior to the completion of a study and possible adoption of new or amended regulations, would create a current and immediate threat to the public safety, health and welfare in that such operations threaten to cause adverse impacts to surrounding residents and businesses, including impacts on or related to over concentration of massage and bodywork establishments in one area, violence against women, human trafficking, noise, outdoor lighting, sanitation, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and property values,” Jenkins wrote.
Local Realtor Scott Carey addressed the council and said he has negotiated with Asian Health Massage of Modesto to secure a five-year lease offer for a new facility on North Maag Avenue.
“The one that is coming to town is professional,” Carey said, adding he recognized the bad timing of the anticipated move. “Not all massage businesses are the same, just like all Realtors aren’t the same.”
Carey stated that brochures and customer information provided by Asian Health Spa was very clear on the services offered and solicitations for sex services were deemed inappropriate.
The owner of the business, Chau Mae Wong, stated she only employs licensed therapists and invited inspections at any time.
A half-dozen current customers also spoke on Wong’s behalf describing their ailments and how beneficial Asian Health Massage would be to the City of Oakdale.
During council discussion Councilwoman Cherilyn Bairos stated that “one bad seed” shouldn’t punish everyone when considering the moratorium.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan told the council that with the ordinance it was “all or nothing” when applying it to the businesses.
Hallinan said he’s been meeting over the past few months with the county’s other city attorneys and Stanislaus County prosecutors on the issue.
“The vast majority are good citizens,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop. “The problem with a moratorium is you can’t pick and choose.”
Hallinan suggested tabling the urgency ordinance which would give time for Asian Health Massage to finalize its paperwork and move in.
The council voted 5-0 to address the ordinance at a later date.
After the meeting Redd said she supports the council’s decision and with more information, the council would support the proposal when presented again.
A check of the same websites and chatrooms used to research Island Spa showed no comments that the Asian Health Massage business engaged in illegal activities, with one commenter even stating, “And guys, I have to tell you if you’re looking for a happy ending, keep looking someplace else. This is not the place you want.”