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City Wants to See Through Doors of Massage Facilities

Law: Lake Forest officials say windows would discourage prostitution. Foes decry the proposal as an invasion of privacy.

June 18, 2002|TINA BORGATTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal in the South Orange County city of Lake Forest would require windows in the doorways to rooms in massage parlors, the better to see exactly what customers are getting for their money.

Massage devotees say that would leave them exposed. Supporters say that's the idea.

Citing problems with massage parlors during the last three years, city officials drafted guidelines to bolster the city's existing ordinance. Two years ago, police arrested four masseuses from the Body Centre on charges of solicitation of prostitution. Such conduct is less likely to occur if the massage rooms can be observed and subject to inspection by police, a city report maintains.

"It's doing two things--it's making sure the massage therapist is in a safe environment and that the patrons coming in understand that there should not be an expectation of privacy," said Mayor Richard Dixon. "I'm disappointed that there are people in the industry who are not embracing this. Frankly, I don't understand the concern."

Massage clients argue such a mandate would penalize all massage establishments for the illicit acts of just a few.

"It's ridiculous," said Marshall Linn, 61, who receives therapeutic massages every week as rehabilitation after spinal surgery. "There is nothing here to hide, so it serves no purpose."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 03, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 10 inches; 361 words Type of Material: Correction
Massage rules--A June 18 article in the California section about a proposed massage-parlor law in Lake Forest used an incomplete name for a business where four masseuses were arrested two years ago on suspicion of solicitation of prostitution. The arrests occurred at the Lake Forest Body Centre.

The proposal also suggests enforcing a dress code: Shirt sleeves would have to be at least 2 inches; skirts could be no shorter than 2 inches above the knee, or 6 inches for shorts. It also would require massage parlor owners to post signs informing clients that they may be subject to surveillance.

"If I walked in for the first time and saw that sign, I would question what type of place this is," said Linn, a Laguna Beach resident whose surgeon referred him to the Center for Muscular Therapy in Lake Forest. "Would I go into my doctor's office and be subject to inspection? It's an invasion of privacy."

He is not alone. The center's owner, Angella Conrard, has gathered testimonials from more than half a dozen clients who say they're offended by the proposal. And at least a dozen massage therapists are expected to attend tonight's City Council meeting to protest the matter.

"It's an invasion of privacy," said Russell Antol, a Los Angeles County firefighter who has been a client of Conrard's for three years. "There are instances when I have hurt my back, and I'm not going there for any reason other than to receive professional care. I'm going there to address a particular issue, and I'm not there to share it with the world."

Cities have worked to curb the use of such establishments as fronts for prostitution. But few have gone so far as to require windows in the rooms, said Mark Dixon of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

Two years ago, Fullerton officials began requiring peepholes in doors to massage rooms. Officials credit the law for weeding out illegal operations.

"It hasn't been challenged," said Gregory P. Palmer, Fullerton's deputy city attorney.

"By and large, it's been successful. We started out with 32 massage parlors, and we now have 11."

Massage therapists Conrard and Mark Dixon agree many of the laws are good. They support licensing and education requirements, already elements of Lake Forest's ordinance. Conrard said she doesn't even mind the proposed dress code, but the windows and signs go too far.

"Imagine a teenage cheerleader with a groin pull coming in and seeing that sign," Conrard said. "She'd be horrified."

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