No massage parlor for the old Parkway
on September 11, 2009
The building that until recently housed Oakland’s late and much-loved Parkway Theater will not host a massage parlor, at least not anytime soon. During a hearing on Thursday afternoon at City Hall, officials announced that the woman applying for a permit to open a massage business on the second floor of the old Parkway Theater had withdrawn her request, which had drawn many objections from neighbors.
“She determined it was in her best interest to drop the application,” Assistant to the City Administrator Arturo Sanchez said after the Special Activity permit hearing. The Special Activity permit regulates different types of businesses, including massage establishments, bingo halls, cabarets and movie theaters.
Despite low turnout at the hearing–of the dozen people who showed up, only one indicated he’d come with particular interest in the massage application–Sanchez said vocal neighborhood opposition was one of the deciding factors in his office’s reluctance to allow the woman, identified by city staff as Son Sun Seo, to open Sun Spa in the neighborhood. Sanchez said that before she withdrew her application, his office received 21 emails over the past few weeks from local residents and business owners opposing the installation of the massage business.
When Sun Spa’s plan to rent the second floor of the defunct movie theater on Park boulevard was made public late last month, setting off a small uproar in the Lake Merritt community, Oakland City Council member Pat Kernighan released a statement reiterating her opposition to the new business, and encouraging residents to file their opposition with the Special Activity office.
At the same time, Kernighan’s statement assured upset residents that there was virtually no chance the deal would go through. One reason, the statement read, was that the landlords didn’t want the business there. Another was that a background check had revealed that the applicant had once been arrested for prostitution in South Carolina.
“Now here’s the good news, from the neighborhood’s perspective,” the statement read. “The City won’t issue a permit to a person with a criminal record for prostitution, so that effectively kills this application.”
In a phone interview from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office in Ridgeland, South Carolina, Lieutenant Sam Woodward told oaklandnorth.net that a woman by the name of Son Sun Seo was arrested last December, and initially charged with a prostitution misdemeanor, after police raided a massage parlor in Hardeeville, SC. However, the charges against Seo were later dropped, as was the case with two of the other three women arrested, Woodward said.
“Her case was dropped because she was not one of the girls actually performing an act of prostitution,” Woodward said. “As far as we’re concerned, Son Sun Seo has no criminal charges in this county.”
Pat Kernighan’s legislative aide Kevin Liao said on Thursday that the council member’s position hasn’t changed. “The applicant’s arrest for prostitution in South Carolina was a cause for concern (and further investigation),” he said by email, “regardless of whether any criminal charges were filed.”
Liao said Kernighan was reflecting her constituency’s opinion, and that her office considered the outcome a success. “The neighbors in the area don’t want this business there,” he said. “It’s just not the right location.”
Proximity to a school and a church was another major hindrance to Sun Spa’s plans. According to hearing officer Sanchez, the new business’s proposed location less than 1,000 feet from the Lake School child care center and the Lake Side Temple of Practical Christianity made the requirements a bit more stringent. “Maintaining the integrity of the community is paramount in these cases,” he said. “There can be no question of the moral turpitude of the establishment.”
In practical terms, this meant that the burden was on Seo to prove the massage business would not negatively affect the neighborhood. “If it’s 50.1 percent in favor of denying, we have to err on the side of caution,” Sanchez said.
Oaklandnorth.net was unable to contact Seo, who did not attend the hearing on Thursday.
Local business owners seemed for the most part glad to receive the news of the permit application withdrawal. One local merchant said that he was relieved Sun Spa will not be setting shop in the neighborhood. He said a dance or yoga studio would be much more atuned to the area’s spirit.
“The last thing I want to see is an illegitimate business coming in,” he said.
Bar owner Patrick Mccullough said that although he would prefer a less controversial neighbor, he’d welcome any new business to the area, provided they are not breaking the law. Mccullough, whose bar Parkway Lounge abuts the old theater, said that to this day he feels the effects of the Parkway’s closing. “People still call here, asking if they can get the schedule for the movies,” he said. “We tell them they are closed.”
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