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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

The San Juan Capistrano City Council approved initial steps during a Tuesday meeting that will—in theory—strengthen local regulations, with an eye toward stopping alleged human trafficking in massage parlors.

Amendments to local regulations suggested by city staff include having only one customer entrance in a visible and well-lit location, prohibiting locks for massage rooms, requiring owners to provide all names and aliases used over the past 10 years, and declaring ordinance violations misdemeanors punishable by fine.

The changes approved were a first reading. The ordinance becomes official after a second reading is approved during a future meeting.

The focus on human trafficking and alleged illicit massage parlors had been brought up by Councilmember Howard Hart, who was newly elected to the dais last year and emphasized the issues during his campaign. In February, Hart authorized city staff to review the city’s existing massage parlor regulations and work with the i-5 Freedom Network—a San Clemente-based nonprofit that raises awareness of human trafficking—in doing so.

“I’m really here to encourage and commend the city of San Juan Capistrano (and) their courageous and committed efforts to address this issue,” said Brenda Wells, founder and executive director of the i-5 Freedom Network. “San Juan Capistrano has the opportunity to become a model city. We’ve been working with other cities trying to get this thing, because, as we know, municipal enforcement is necessary at this level.”

Hart said the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force will assist with the matter.

City Manager Ben Siegel said enforcement is handled by both code enforcement and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“Our code enforcement officers work closely with the Sheriff’s Department and coordinates in terms of addressing these types of issues, but this would be a local municipal code, and our code enforcement staff is already proactively conducting inspections and would be monitoring compliance with these types of provisions,” Siegel said.

Mayor John Taylor said he was not initially aware that human trafficking was an issue in San Juan before Hart brought it up.

“I really commend the work that Howard has done and the i-5 Freedom Network,” Taylor said. “It’s disheartening to think that could be happening in our community.”

The council also approved a resolution declaring the city’s commitment to fighting human trafficking.

The neighboring towns of San Clemente and Dana Point have also taken similar steps to address human trafficking and massage parlors.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com

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