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New Laws Affect Businesses in Hawaiian Gardens

By Kristin Grafft

An “urgency ordinance” was voted into effect Tuesday, January 28, imposing a moratorium on any smoke shop or electronic cigarette retailers in the city of Hawaiian Gardens, while massage parlors must soon heed new closing times.

City attorney Omar Sandoval explained that the ordinance does not affect any current smoke shops that are already established in Hawaiian Gardens, it simply prohibits new stores from moving in. The ordinance specifically targets any new businesses that derive more than 20% of their sales from e-cigarettes, cigarettes or drug paraphernalia.
Sandoval added that the city is “trying to figure out if there are any additional regulations that we can actually implement to properly regulate these kinds of products.”
Mayor Reynaldo Rodriguez strongly supported the ordinance and shared his concern over school children being found with e-cigarettes, as well as e-cigarettes being used to smoke illegal drugs.

“Just recently there was an explosion in some apartment over there where they were extracting oil from the marijuana plant, and these e-cigarettes is what they used,” Rodriguez said.

Many of the council members shared similar sentiments stating that, although there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are bad, there is also no evidence proving they are safe.

In response, councilman Barry Bruce said that he actually thinks the majority of e-cigarette users do not use marijuana oil, but instead use flavor oil. He also said that, “a lot of people say that it’s safer than smoking cigarettes.”

However, Bruce finished by saying, “But the bottom line is, like Mr. Gomez said, we really don’t know. There haven’t been enough studies to really know what inhaling vapor really does. So on behalf of the city and us being proactive, I also agree with this moratorium.”

In the end, the council approved the ordinance unanimously.
They city also introduced an ordinance to amend title 9 of the Hawaiian Gardens municipal code regulating massage parlors. This amendment would prohibit massage parlors and other medical facilities from operating past 7 p.m.
According to the council the intent behind this amendment is to limit the amount of illegal activity happening at the massage parlors.

Councilman Mike Gomez said, “Like with the e-cigarettes, there are people who use them legitimately–people who actually just want a massage–but this is to make sure the ‘other stuff’ doesn’t happen. Legitimate business does not happen after 7 p.m.”

Bruce added that there are a lot of cities “up in arms” about all the massage parlors popping up, and the cities’ inability to stop them from moving in. Because of this Bruce said he supported the proposed regulations.

“For a small, less than one square mile city, to have six (massage parlors) my opinion there is enough is enough. Lets have some other establishments.” Bruce said.

The council voted unanimously to move forward with the ordinance with the intention of voting it into effect at the following meeting. However, the vote was postponed due to some opposition at the February 11 meeting.

Although the city said they had not received any complaints regarding the proposed ordinance, a Chinese couple that owns a massage parlor in the city attended the last meeting in opposition of the regulations. Unfortunately the couple needed a translator and had not informed the city of this in advance.

The council decided to postpone the issue and requested the couple return with their own Mandarin Chinese translator so that the reasons behind the new regulations can be clearly related to them before any decisions are made.

Amid the new regulations the city council also approved an amnesty program for business owners at the February 11 meeting.

The program will “forgive certain past obligations for taxpayers who register with the city”, this includes both businesses that reside within the city and those that simply conduct business in Hawaiian Gardens but reside elsewhere.
During the window of amnesty business owners will be exonerated of any fines they may owe and will only need to pay the basic licensing fees, as long as they agree to pay all future business license taxes.

The amnesty period will begin in one month, giving the city time to send out letters to the businesses informing them of the program. The amnesty period will last six months, extending from March until September 2014.