Tulare council discusses revoking massage parlor registration

Ben Irwin

Chief of police revokes Kern Ave Massage registration, appeal hearing ensues at city council meeting

TULARE – What started as a response to a January public “COVID complaint” quickly escalated into Tulare Police Chief Wes Hensley shutting down a Tulare massage parlor for multiple violations. The business owner appealed the decision which resulted in a weird Feb. 16 hearing before the Tulare City Council.

Sergeant Ray Guerrero of the Tulare Police Department—who responded to the initial complaint Jan.19—said police and the code enforcement department have been directed to take an educational approach to enforcement. Massage parlors were supposed to be closed under the governor’s orders at that time due to the rampant spread of COVID-19.

“If a business was open during the governor’s stay-at-home order, the code enforcement division was tasked with responding to the business, whether the complaint came to city hall or to the police department,” Sgt. Guerrero said, “to provide education of the governor’s order to that location.”

At the appeal hearing, Sgt. Guerrero said he and a code enforcement officer responded to the complaint at the business on the same day, and said the “open” sign was illuminated upon their arrival. After entering the lobby, the two encountered what Sgt. Guerrero described as a locked “metal screen security door” between the lobby and massage area. After announcing himself as a Tulare Police officer, Sgt. Guerrero said a figure appeared behind the screen door before abruptly walking away.

“I was able to look underneath the curtain, at which time I noticed a female wearing black high heels, a red lacey dress, if you will, and a black lacey sweater,” Sgt. Guerrero said. “Several minutes later, she arrived back and opened the door wearing now sweatpants, flip-flops along with a red lacey shirt and the sweater.”

Sgt. Guerrero said they had trouble communicating with the woman—later identified to have the last name of Chen—due to a language barrier, until the code enforcement officer with him was able to use a translator application to identify she was speaking Chinese. Sgt. Guerrero said she stated she was cleaning the business, but that they did not find any cleaning materials during their inspection—permitted by chapter 5 of the Tulare city code, which states any city official can conduct an inspection of a massage parlor if the business is open.

“During that inspection, we located a room which appeared to be a living area with a bed, several clothing items, personal hygiene items, personal effects of someone who appeared to be living there,” Sgt. Guerrero said.

Sgt. Guerrero said he made the decision to stop and notify Mario Anaya, the city’s principal planner, to conduct an inspection of the massage parlor, which had previously been cited for violations it had since fixed.

“Unfortunately when it was open we found new violations,” Anaya said, “and one of the major violations of chapter 5.104, which is the massage ordinance, is that anyone present when the massage parlor is open and the open sign is on has to be registered with the city paperwork and has to have most importantly a California massage therapy certification.”

Anaya said the woman present was neither registered nor possessed a certification, and appeared to be living at the business, which is also not allowed, for which Chief Hensley made the decision to revoke business registration for the massage parlor.

Chunmei Xu, the owner of Kern Ave Massage, was present at the council meeting, along with Michael Sereno, who claimed to be Xu’s interpreter, even though he said she “speaks good english, she’s a citizen.”

Without Xu saying a word, Sereno immediately started addressing the council with a statement, to which Mayor Dennis Maderos quickly interjected.

“Are you interpreting for her, or are you making a statement on behalf of yourself?” Maderos asked.” If you’re making a statement on behalf of yourself, what is your relationship to the appellant?”

“We’re friends,” responded Sereno.

Clarifying he was making a statement on Xu’s behalf, Sereno claimed the woman present upon Sgt. Guerrero’s arrival was only supposed to be cleaning, and was “only supposed to be there for three or four days.”

Sereno used “we” throughout his statement referring to the operations of the business and confirmed he was speaking about both himself and Xu when prompted by Mayor Maderos.

Xu expressed her apology for what happened, and said she wanted to follow the law, not break it. Both Xu and Sereno claim to be out-of-towners from the Los Angeles area.

In a brief rebuttal, Sgt. Guerrero said because of the illuminated “open” sign, the ease of entry into the business,the present woman’s attire—which “any reasonable person would not believe that she was cleaning”—and the lack of any cleaning products at the property, he concluded that she was “open for business.”

Chief Hensley said the circumstances that Sgt. Guerrero stumbled upon in his January follow up on a public “COVID Complaint” is not the first time this “exact same set of circumstances” has been observed at massage parlors within Tulare, and recommended the council deny the appeal.

The appeal was denied, which bars the business owner from operating or re-applying in Tulare for one year.

The Tulare Police department said no one has been arrested in association with the hearing.

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