Chris Vaughn runs a barbershop in Oildale.
And he isn’t pleased about his neighbors.
“I have an illegal, illicit massage parlor next to my business,” he told Kern County supervisors Tuesday.
Three of his customers have been propositioned for prostitution when they tried to patronize the shop next door.
Vaughn served in the Coast Guard, he said, and he’s seen things like this before.
“I used to do human trafficking (investigations) for the federal government. This is organized crime, as far as I’m concerned,” Vaughn said.
Kern County supervisors are on the same page.
On Tuesday they launched an effort to increase regulation of massage businesses and crack down on prostitution.
The Kern County Public Health Services Department is preparing a revision to county ordinances that would create a detailed regulatory program — including fees to support licensing, inspections and enforcement.
Supervisors voted to hold a public hearing and vote on that ordinance Aug. 22.
Supervisor Mike Maggard called the problem a scourge on the community and said better regulation and enforcement could help the victims of human trafficking that might be exploited by the parlors.
Assistant Public Health Director Brynn Carrigan said the ordinance would require each masseuse to register with the California Massage Therapy Council.
The county would also regulate massage establishments to make sure they are clean, safe and aren’t set up to facilitate prostitution.
County leaders would offer educational classes with owners and staff of the roughly 75 massage businesses in unincorporated Kern County.
Each business would then get an annual inspection and pay an estimated $1,600 annual permit fee.
Public Health would also coordinate with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to investigate reports of illegal activity at massage parlors.
And that activity is happening, said Public Health Director Matt Constantine.
The county learned about a website where users post reviews of massage businesses and rate the practitioners and illicit services they were provided. The site makes it clear the problem is widespread.
Bakersfield Police Department Detective Glenn Phippen of the vice unit also spoke Tuesday. He said the city responds to complaints about massage parlors regularly and conducts about four to five sting operations a month.
Roughly 90 percent of those operations uncover criminal activity, Phippen said.
Currently the county’s ordinance is much weaker than the city’s and, Constantine said, is not compliant with state laws.
“They’re aware that they can go to the county and there are not requirements,” confirmed Phippen.
Constantine said the county ordinance is designed to create similar standards for massage businesses as those in the city of Bakersfield.
To support the staffing needed to handle the ordinance’s licensing, permit and inspection requirements, Constantine said, the county must create a service fee on businesses.
That is estimated to cost roughly $1,600 per business.
Oildale business owner Lisa Woods thanked the Board of Supervisors for responding quickly to the issue.
“I do want to thank you guys for considering this amazing proposal,” she said. “I am pleading (for you to) consider this amazing tool.”
Maggard thanked Woods right back.
It was Woods’ public comments before the board last month that triggered the county’s action.
“Occasionally there are moments when one person stands up and makes a difference,” Maggard said.
That was one moment.
He encouraged other people in the community to stand up and use “the same power that Ms. Woods and Mr. Vaughn have put in motion.”