Federal Way Tackles Massage-Parlor Issue After Scathing Reports

POLICE SAY Federal Way's problem with having a high number of prostitution-connected massage parlors goes back to 1991, when the year-old city decided to rely on a new state law.

FEDERAL WAY - Smarting from news of the city's status as the mecca for massage parlors, the city will tackle the issue at its Public Safety Committee meeting next week in an attempt to rid itself of the unwanted claim to fame.

King County Police Maj. Bob Evans has been asked to provide a comprehensive report on crime in Federal Way and on the problem of prostitution-connected massage parlors.

The committee will meet at 7:30 a.m. Nov. 3 at City Hall.

City Manager Ken Nyberg said the city likely will prepare a massage-parlor ordinance in the near future.

The action comes after recent news reports that the city has a higher number of prostitution-connected massage parlors than other cities in the county.

Police say the problem goes back to 1991.

At that time, the 1-year-old city decided to rely on a new state massage-therapy law, which says cities can't make massage therapists pay more, or meet any different licensing standards, than physical or occupational therapists.

Without additional revenue generated by a higher license fee to pay for massage-parlor inspections and background checks, Federal Way elected not to make inspections or impose other requirements.

According to police, Federal Way's lack of an ordinance is the

reason the number of massage parlors has increased about three times since 1989. Today, 30 registered massage businesses are in the city. While some give legitimate therapeutic massages, employees or owners at nine have had criminal involvement, police say.

But the city's troubles controlling prostitution haven't been linked solely to massage parlors.

Dueling lawyers have fought battles from the council chambers to King County Superior Court after X-OticTan, a tanning and lingerie-modeling salon, closed last month.

A city hearing examiner ruled that it needed an adult-entertainment license to operate. Avarice, the parent company, has appealed the decision to the City Council. The hearing is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 1.

In the meantime, Avarice has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court. It is seeking compensation for lost business and the alleged violation of the constitutional rights of two employees.

It maintains the employees, whom the city charged with prostitution and failure to obtain an adult-entertainers' license, were denied their rights to freedom of expression and other provisions.

Trial on the prostitution and adult-entertainer charges is set in Federal Way District Court for early next month.