City leaders will consider a moratorium on new tattoo shops because they can breed gangs, crime and infectious disease, according to a City Hall report.
If approved Tuesday by the City Council, no tattoo business could open in the next 45 days, and leaders later could extend the ban for two years.
Tattoo shops are “usually associated with a number of negative secondary effects ... including gang-related activity and illegal drug transactions” as well as “infectious diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis, tuberculosis and HIV,” the report says.
A longtime tattoo artist was not offended to hear those words.
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“I would not disagree, not one bit,” said Ray Hoot of Tattoo You & Body Piercing, which has operated in town for 11 years but bears no resemblance, he said, to the staff report. It must refer, he said, to illegitimate parlors operating without licenses that have been required by state law for two years. Such shops give body artists a bad name and undercut his business, he said.
“These fly-by-nights do stuff so dirt cheap that nobody can compete with them,” Hoot said. “They run for six months, then close, go around the corner and open up again.”
Mayor Richard O’Brien said he’s heard that officials have encountered unlicensed tattoo operations. None were cited in the staff report prepared for the upcoming council meeting, but O’Brien hopes to learn more in a presentation Tuesday.
“I think we have a lot” of tattoo shops, “exceeding the needs of the city,” the mayor said.
Officials want to make sure Riverbank “is not faced with an unmanageable problem,” the report says, and need time to study where tattoo shops might best operate without again experiencing recent “issues,” which weren’t identified.
“Sailor Bill” Johnson, vice president of the National Tattoo Association, said he has seen similar efforts in his 20 years of lobbying for artists’ rights. He operates a shop in Orlando, Fla, where he helped form an owners guild in 1992.
“It’s a bullying tactic,” Johnson said. “It sounds like they’re trying to strong-arm people who aren’t experienced in legal matters, just roll over them to get their way.
“Tattooing is a profession, a legitimate business, especially in the last 10, 20 years,” he continued. “It surprises me (to see this) in California, which usually is more open with things.”
Hoot agreed that body art has come a long way.
“Tattooing has always had a stigma of only gangsters or people in prison, and we all know that’s not the truth,” he said. “It’s very mainstream these days.”
But he objects to practitioners who ignore permitting established in 2012. Hoot advised the Stanislaus County Environmental Health Department, which inspects all tattoo, piercing and permanent cosmetic facilities, and issues licenses to artists who get vaccinations and complete bloodborne pathogen training.
“They need to get even tougher than they are now,” Hoot said, “and now they’re pretty damn tough.”