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Massage? Uh, Sure…….

massageWell, it was an interesting meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission last night. Wish I could have been there. This morning’s video was good for a laugh, anyway. Someone should tell Commissioner Ryder Smith the meeting is taped. The closeup of him chewing his cud on camera was priceless. Hope he isn’t running for councilman next year.

Well, I was wrong. I predicted a change-up of chair and pro tem. The commissioners, by obvious prior collusion, decided to keep Jeff Thompson and Austin Lumbard in their respective seats. Congratulations. Of course, Lumbard may be waiting until next year to be elevated to chair so he doesn’t have as long to embarrass himself before the city council elections.

I don’t know if the guy showing up with Lodestone Chiropractic owner Antoni Nguyen was a lawyer or not but he sure sounded like one. Denying Nguyen was running a massage parlor and stating that he had no employees, Mr. Dudeker (apologies on any misspelling) spent his time stumbling over words in an attempt to distance Nguyen from the independent contractor who blew the whistle on him in the first place. It took more than 20 minutes of questioning by Jeff Thompson (who missed his calling as an attorney) and the others to ferret out the real truth that Nguyen did lie on his application.

Probably the most compelling speaker to complain about the business activities was a 19 year old young lady who lives in the area. Saying that she and her friends had been approached numerous times by strange men who park in front of her house at all hours of the night, she asked the commissioners to do the right thing for the neighborhood and shut the business. And, they did. On a 5 to 0 vote, the commissioners upheld the staff recommendation to invalidate Nguyen’s business license.

Over the past few years, the city has been dealing more and more with massage parlor type businesses. While it can be difficult to discern legitimate businesses from sleazy parlor operations like the ones depicted on backpage.com, it is important for the city to continue to crack down on them when they can. And, our city has not done enough.

I can remember only one sting operation the police department has publicized in the past couple of years. In testimony over another massage parlor license about this time last year, an undercover officer told the city council he had been involved in a sting operation with an associated business. The discussion was pretty graphic and gave an understanding of just how sleazy and dangerous the massage parlor/sex trade business can be.

Our town Tustin, unfortunately, seems to have become a haven for “day spas”. I’m not saying they all run their operation with skimpy outfitted young ladies inferring sex upon payment is an option. But, at least some of them are. The city could be doing more to squelch these types of operation while allowing legitimate spas to conduct their business without this stigma hanging over their heads. No legitimate business is going to object to occasional, unannounced visits.

Last year, the governor signed a new law re instituting the California Massage Therapy Council as the governing board to certify massage therapists. A Certified Massage Therapist is required to undergo 500 hours of training to be certified. There are fingerprinting and background checks as well.

The CMTC has had its detractors, surprisingly, cities who want to keep more local control of massage therapists and businesses in the lucrative sex trade. Instead of objecting to the state certification, however, cities should embrace the state permitting system and look to tighten controls at that level. Any profession that requires the touching of hair, skin or other body parts, should undergo uniform requirements for certification. The city council-lauded Association of California Cities-OC, led by former police officer and Tustin Councilman Al Murray, could begin with asking for more stringent training and certification requirements.

While cosmetologists and barbers are required to undergo more than a year of full-time training, certified massage therapists are only required to take 500 hours and it may be “distance learning”, a euphemism for on-line school. Even manicurists are required to attend a 400 hour school in person. The ACCOC could create a policy venue to address this.

One of the most important arguments for state licensing and certification is the eradication of the sex trade. Like it or not, massage parlors are a breeding ground for slavery. If you think Tustin is immune, think again. That undercover officer who testified at the city council last year, gave a chilling indication that businesses that support the sex slavery are alive and well in our fair city. It’s time for our city and the police department to take another serious look and eliminate this blot on our community.

In the meantime, it might serve the city council to place a moratorium on massage parlor and day spa business licenses until they can figure out how to separate the legitimate provider from the sex slaver.

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On The Planning Commission Agenda – April 14, 2015

Wisam "Sam" Altowaiji Tustin Planning Commission

Wisam “Sam” Altowaiji
Tustin Planning Commission

This week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission will be decidedly shorter than two weeks ago. Hopefully, Sam Altowaiji has come off his high horse and settled down again. At the last meeting, if you recall, he was pulled up short by Commmunity Development Director Elizabeth Binsack. Sam apparently thought that, as planning commissioner, he was Elizabeth’s boss. Sorry Sam, maybe you should confer with City Manager Jeff Parker for clarification about who runs what in the city. While you’re at it, ask him about the Brown Act and serial telephone meetings.

The first thing on the plate for the new/old planning commission is to elect their respective Chair and Vice-Chair. My bet is on Austin Lumbard to take the chair. Lumbard is reportedly (mostly by his dad) running for city council next year. It only seems natural that he demonstrate his leadership ability as chair of the planning commission. Hmmm. Let’s see, the affable but clueless Ryder Smith sounds like a good candidate for pro tem. But, the commisssioners may want to keep Jeff Thompson in there as he has experience with these sorts of things. The only bad thing about Jeff is he keeps recusing himself for anything that comes within 5 miles of Old Town.

Yes, like a bad penny, the resolution on Second Residential Units keeps coming back to haunt us. Fortunately, this time, it is just to rectify a staff mistake in numbering. With any luck, Altowaiji won’t attempt to turn this into another Binsack bashing.

The only other item of note on the agenda is a Public Hearing. Item 4, Appeal of Notice of Invalid Business License, should prove interesting if the owner shows up to defend himself.

Lodestone Chiropractic practices out of an office building on Irvine Boulevard. According to the staff report, the city became alerted to an irregularity in their business license when a massage therapist came in to obtain their business license as an independent contractor for “Lodestone Therapy”. It was noted then that the chiropractic business states on their license application they did not provide massage therapy services at their business. The ommission is what prompted a revocation of his license and this appeal.

Lodestone’s owner, Antoni Nguyen, defended his application by stating that he is a duly licensed chiropractor and, according to state law, massage is listed as a normal practice for chiropractors. So, Nguyen didn’t need to state that he offers massage therapy separately on the license.

Uh-huh……..

Well, I’ve been going to my chiropractor for 15 years and she also practices massage therapy. I think what the state had in mind was more in line with what she offers and how she offers it. Her massage is incidental to her chiropractic work and does not involve dressing up in skimpy outfits ala housemaid.

When the city looked into Nguyen’s business practices, they found a web ad on backpage.com for “Full Body Massage”, 7 days a week from 10am to 9pm. The accompanying photos show a young lady looking back over her shoulder while wearing a skimpy top. I seriously doubt she knows swedish massage techniques. As a matter of record, she is also not a licensed chiropractor.

Now, I don’t blame Nguyen a bit for taking the position he does in his appeal. State law specifically allows licensed chiropractors to provide massage as part of their therapy for a patient. But, the state law he cites is for licensing chiropractors, not their business. The city says he failed to note the massage therapy, provided by an independent contractor, on the license. This is pretty much a no-brainer. The length of the discussion, however, will depend on how much the commission wants to hear themselves talk as well as whether Altowaiji wants to somehow work this into another diatribe against Elizabeth Binsack.

In any case, I expect our fair city to be shy one more business supplying dubious “therapeutic massage”. While there are a few spas and independent massage therapists in Tustin offering legitimate services, there are at least as many the city should go after for illicit trade. Maybe Chief Celano can get a volunteer to run a sting operation and flush out the sex trade.

We always like a good laugh and this week’s meeting should provide a few. I’ll let you know if there is anything noteworthy to report.

Oh, if you want to look at the pictures, guys, they can be found in the staff report here.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – January 27, 2015

planning commission puzzleUnless the public comes out in force demanding to be heard, it’s doubtful the Tustin City Planning Commission will spend much time on the dais Tuesday. The only item of interest is Item 2, presumably a public hearing item as it occurs before the “Regular Business” header.

Item 2 is a Conditional Use Permit application to establish a pawn shop within the confines of an existing jewelry and watch store. The applicant, PJ Javansir, it the reported owner of the establishment, located in the Gateway Village strip mall on the northeast corner of Edinger and Redhill.

The shop will be limited to the pawn of jewelry items (we’ll see how long that lasts) that the store would normally handle in sales. There is no change in the form or design of the shop itself and it looks as though it would just be an extension of their regular business. In its usual verbose style, the city describes the project here. Let’s hope the presentation isn’t as long.

The only other item on the agenda is the Community Development 2014 Year in Review. The review, which can be seen here, is the annual summary of activities by the Community Development Department. They have had quite a year of activity mostly having to do with future planning.

A highlight of the report is the Downtown Commercial Core Plan, where new and remodel construction took place as well as the initiation of discussions with the community on revitalization of Old Town Tustin. The plan envisions a pedestrian plan to encourage people to visit the area.

Unfortunately, the city has apparently put the residential portion of this plan on the back burner as no further effort has been made to address resident issues. More than a year ago, the city was courting old town residents in an effort to update housing and building rules pertaining to outbuildings. That project was quickly placed ont he back burner as it would result in no change in the income stream.

On the other hand, even if only half the plans of the “visionaries” come through on the commercial core effort, the city could see substantial increases to its tax base. Of course, that effort requires the cooperation (and money) of the businesses that make up the old town (and surrounding) area. Thus, the push to “sell” the concept to the business community.

That’s it for the week. Don’t forget the upcoming election to replace Mimi Walters. We’ll have something to say and a recommendation for the vote coming soon.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – January 13, 2015

agenda-clipartAfter a month long hyatus, the Tustin Planning Commission is taking it easy for their first meeting of the year. The December 9th meeting had only three real items of discussion and they breezed through those in just over 30 minutes. The only reason it took that long was due to the discussion over sign variances on the Legacy property.

The lengthy discussion concerned temporary signs for 800 acres of property involving commercial and personal real property. The city staff, thinking they were going to breeze through this were taken by surprise by the concerns Commissioner Sam (may I call you Sam?) Altowaiji had over size and number of signs. Eventually, the remaining commissioners (two of them recused themselves) approved the ordinance.

Of course, one of the reasons they were able to breeze through the agenda was because they “suggested” going through without presentations. I’m not sure if that sat well with the city staff or if they were relieved they didn’t have to do another dog and pony show for an otherwise empty house while Jeff Thompson pretended to look fascinated. As was pointed out, the staff reports attached to the published agenda have all the information.

Let’s hope they remember that in future meetings.

Community Development Department Director Elizabeth Binsack did report on the Second Community Core Workshop, saying the turnout was very good (it was, I was there) and they received a few comments and suggestions they are considering. The consultants they hired to put this together have done a nice job on the inclusiveness tact.

Barring unforeseen presentations, Tuesday night’s planning commission meeting should go just about as quick as December’s. Only one public hearing is scheduled for a Conditional Use Permit.

Item 2, Conditional Use Permit 2014-22, would establish a dance studio on Bentley Circle near Walnut and Tustin Ranch Road. Actually the applicant, South Coast Performing Arts, has been in Tustin at the Ralphs Shopping Center on Irvine Blvd. since 2005. Business must be good.

The application and report look pretty in-depth save for a couple of items the commissioners should be asking about.

First, the city seems to put an incredible emphasis on environmental health. This building has been used, since 1979, for industrial application. The last use prior to this was as an electronics manufacturer. In my experience, electronics involved a lot of nasty chemicals and solvents for cleaning. Still, no testing or CEQA required before allowing children into the area?

The other item, and I admit it is a small one, is the inclusion of a “homework” room in the plans (right in the middle, Elizabeth). It sounds like this may be used when parents drop their kids off early or pick them up late ala (not-so-) free babysitting. Have those bodies been included in the max number of people at the facility? Just asking, and maybe the commissioners should, too.

That should be it for the week. Hopefully, the commissioners won’t want to spend a lot of time on their personal holiday antics. I’m not sure I want to hear about green bean casseroles gone awry.

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