The Santa Maria Planning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to support changes to the city’s municipal code governing massage business zoning.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” Planning Commissioner Maribel Hernandez said before casting her “yes” vote during the meeting at City Hall. 

City leaders said changes in state law finally give them the power to amend massage business laws, and complaints from the community gave them the will to make the changes.

Wednesday’s vote was the first step in the city’s goal to create a new framework aimed at properly regulating legitimate massage businesses and weeding out those breaking the law.

Specifically, the Planning Commission voted to approve text amendments that will expand regions of operation for massage businesses. Now, the City Council on Tuesday will be asked whether or not to support the commission's decision. 

Currently, massage parlors are only permitted in the city’s General Commercial District (C-2), which is centered along the Broadway, Main Street and East Betteravia Road corridors.

However, the commission voted to recommend that massage businesses be allowed in the city's Commercial Professional Office (CPO) and its Central Business (C-1) zoning areas, which include additional commercial, professional and medical office areas in the city.

The zoning changes will provide more opportunities for legitimate massage businesses in the city, once the council approves expected wholesale changes to the other rules that govern the ventures.

If approved, the new rules will require massage businesses to seek certification and registration with the city. The process will include education and other requirements provided by California Message Therapy Council (CAMTC).

The certification process is directly aimed at reducing human trafficking. Background checks will also be a part of the city certification process.

“It will provide law enforcement a tool to combat illegal massage business by combating human trafficking,” Assistant City Attorney Phil Sinco said.

Hernandez said she heard from a few members of the community asking that the city work to crack down on massage businesses that are essentially prostitution rings.

Commissioner Tim Seifert agreed.

“Human trafficking has been in the forefront, and this is a good step in the right direction. I hope it does what we are anticipating that it does,” he said.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.