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Walnut Creek's red light district


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Walnut Creek may be the center of our East Bay universe with its shopping, dining, and arts scene. But the once-sleepy suburb has also emerged as a great place to run a brothel.

City leaders have been working out details of an ordinance to help shut down illicit sex operations disguised as massage businesses. Actually, the usually trendsetting Walnut Creek is behind the curve: All surrounding cities of Contra Costa already have such laws in place.

About 150 massage businesses operate in Walnut Creek, more than three times the number in Concord, Pleasant Hill, or Pleasanton. Walnut Creek Police Lt. Steve Skinner says that between April and October, police conducted six undercover operations at massage salons, two of which had been targeted several times before for prostitution arrests. The businesses use ads and sexually explicit reviews posted on Craigslist and various adult websites to get the word out to potential clients.

“There are health concerns and morality concerns, but I would guess that the average citizen is probably more concerned with how directly [prostitution] impacts their life,” says City Attorney Paul Valle-Riestra. “If you’re living or working next to one of these places, you might have a constant stream of less-than-savory people in the area.”

Applicants for a massage license will need to prove they have a certain level of training in massage therapy and have not been convicted within the past 10 years of crimes such as solicitation, assault, fraud, or sex offenses. At most, the ordinance will serve as a deterrent, says Valle-Riestra.

“Obviously, it’s the world’s oldest profession. No one is going to get rid of the problem entirely.”

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