City Council votes to uphold massage parlor license revocation

SAN MARCOS — In racy ads featuring scantily clad models, San Marcos’ King Massage Parlor promised “most sweet and wonderful Asian girls will treat you like king.” 

The ads, among other things, were the reason the City Council this week took the rare step of upholding the revocation of the massage parlor’s license.

The council voted 4-1 at a special meeting on Jan. 23 to deny King Massage’s appeal of an administrative hearing officer’s decision to revoke the business’ license. The hearing spanned five hours over two special sessions on Jan. 9 and Jan. 23. 

“I thought that staff had made the case that the violations were valid and proven,” Councilman Chris Orlando said. “I think the totality of them really concerned me, and they showed a pattern of not abiding by the city’s rules, both the ones established in 2017 and the rules established prior to that, and many state laws as well.”

To Orlando’s knowledge, this was the first massage parlor license revocation that had reached the council. 

Mayor Jim Desmond voted against the revocation solely because of the finding dealing with the sexually explicit advertising, which he said is not clearly defined in the local ordinance or the state.

“We were not given any guidelines for sexually explicit advertising and it is usually left to the State to determine,” Desmond said in an email Thursday. “The State has it under investigation but has not yet ruled. I was in favor denying the appeal on the basis of all the other findings, but could not vote for it with the one yet to be determined finding by the State.  If that finding has been removed I would have voted in favor of denying the appeal.”

City staff listed eight violations in a staff report as grounds to uphold the revocation, including that the business used a number of sexually suggestive advertisements to promote the business online, which the city prohibits. 

One found on the website www.backpage.com featured Asian women dressed in tops that showed cleavage and advertised “Gorgeous Asian Girls” and “Young Hot Girls, Unforgettable Angel Touch.”

Another featured an Asian woman in lingerie.

The establishment’s owner argued that he contracted out with the Chinese Yellow Pages to monitor his website and place ads on other sites and was unaware of the sexually suggestive content. City officials said it was the owner’s responsibility to review all the ads. 

The ads also stated that there were six massage therapists available every day, but the parlor’s application with the city only listed three certified therapists. 

The city also said that King Massage was using massage therapists who weren’t state certified, they didn’t list all of the massage therapists on their business application, that it didn’t post state license certificates in public view, that they did not require massage therapists to wear state ID cards and they failed to keep a log of all massages performed, among other allegations. 

The troubles for King Massage, which is located in a shopping center off of Nordahl Road and the 15 Freeway, started in August 2017, when the city found a number of violations during a routine inspection. 

According to the staff report, one of the massage parlor’s unlicensed therapists initially ran away during the inspection. 

Records show that the owner, Xianhe Li, explained during the administrative hearing that it was difficult to list all of therapists working at the location due to high turnover and that therapists are often called in to fill in from other locations. He also said that therapists often kept their ID cards in their pocket while giving massages because it was inconvenient to wear while giving massages. 

City officials said the reasons were not valid excuses under city and state law. 

The Coast News reached out to the establishment’s owner, Xianhe Li, for comment. After explaining that he did not speak English well enough, he said that his son would contact a reporter. The Coast News will update the story with comment from the family when it is received. 

San Marcos in June 2017 adopted wholesale changes to its massage parlor regulations to counteract a proliferation of the establishments citywide. Among other things, the new rules required all massage therapists working at an establishment to have state licenses, and capped the number of establishments at one for every 2,500 residents. 

Additionally, brick-and-mortar massage establishments have to obtain a new license, which costs $380 the first year and $308 to renew annually. Out-call massage establishments would be required to obtain a permit, too, but for $125 and $53 to renew. 

The new rules also bar a proprietor from transferring a suspended or revoked license to another person at the same location for five years, which likely means King Massage would have to close if it does not appeal the city’s decisions to the state Superior Court.

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