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Clovis Tightens the Vise on Sin With New Ordinances
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By Edward Smith
Published 3 days ago on
May 14, 2024

New ordinances approved by the Clovis City Council on Monday, May 13, 2024, will regulate tobacco and massage businesses. (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)

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Clovis City Councilmembers on Monday took measures to prevent businesses from selling more than they advertise.

As Fresno City Councilmembers debate how to regulate tobacco businesses, Clovis councilmembers created their own remedy for “smoke shops” that often sell more than just cigarettes and vaping products.

The Clovis council also went after massage parlors, some of which, police say, engage in human trafficking.

Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck said the two ordinances passed on Monday address public safety and public health.

“Every tool we can provide that aligns with community values, state law, and what the citizens expect, the city of Clovis will pursue,” said Ashbeck.

Tobacco Stores Selling Illegal Tobacco Products to Minors

Of the 85 licensed tobacco retailers in Clovis, police have inspected 46. Of those, inspectors found 35 to have broken state laws, according to Clovis police Cpl. Sean O’Brien.

Most violations were for selling tobacco to minors, especially flavored tobacco products now illegal, O’Brien said during the meeting.

But police have found more than tobacco. Cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, weapons, and prescription medications have been seized from smoke shops during inspections.

“While the Business and Professions Code allows for officers to issue infraction citations to the clerk working at the store when illegal products are being sold, there are few if any repercussions for the actual business owner,” the staff report reads.

Selling Tobacco Now Requires a Local License

After the 5-0 vote approving the new ordinance, Clovis now requires tobacco retailers to apply for a license. Applying for a license costs $400 and then an annual fee of $1,000 accompanies receiving a license.

Requiring a license gives police greater authority to penalize business owners and seize products, O’Brien said.

Inspectors from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration mostly want to make sure taxes are being paid, he said.

Though state law requires tobacco users to be 21 years old, police have found businesses selling to 16- and 17-year-olds.

One city councilmember noted during the meeting that a store near City Hall was selling to students from Clark Intermediate School.

Fresno City Council Still Working on Smoke Shop Ordinance

At the end of 2023, Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias introduced a city ordinance that would limit the number of smoke shops in Fresno to 14, or two per council district, down from the hundreds that operate throughout the city.

Arias said it was not only tobacco sales to minors, but also gambling and the sale of illegal narcotics that spurred the need to shut down what could be 90% of Fresno’s smoke shops.

Councilmembers are currently refining the language of the ordinance to ensure it complies with the law.

Councilmember Mike Karbassi feared retroactively closing down businesses would expose the city to significant litigation.

Ordinance to Stymie Massage Parlors Found Selling Sex

When massage parlors are found to be selling sex or engaging in other illegal activities, police can shut the business down. What police can’t stop is the business from reopening under a different name.

“This happens frequently, the last one that was shut down, the same thing happened,” Clovis police Cpl. Bryce Alcorn said at the meeting. “We went by there again recently and sure enough, new business, new name.”

The ordinance approved on a 5-0 vote puts a five-year moratorium on a massage business opening up in the same suite as the one where the closed business operated.

This helps prevent the business owner from simply selling the business to a family member and reopening with a strawman operator.

Massage parlors selling sex often use trafficked people, according to police.

The California Massage Therapy Council recommends similar measures to prevent human trafficking common in the massage business.

The ordinance does not prevent those business owners from finding a new location, but Alcorn said the police department has a list of every massage business owner and employee.

“He knows who should and shouldn’t be doing massages there,” Alcorn said. “If they tried to open up a new one and it was the same owner, we would see that and it would be flagged.”

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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