Tattoo artists and patrons, bristling at a City Hall report aligning them with gangs and infectious disease, got nothing but love Tuesday from City Council members eager to welcome businesses to town rather than drive them away.
The council adopted a 45-day moratorium on new tattoo shops but unanimously decided the temporary ban won’t apply to one artist with a pending application or an established tattoo operation that wants to move.
Representatives of both offered to help city officials draft rules meant to guide future tattoo shops into the right areas of town, and the council enthusiastically accepted.
“We all know tattooing is an international art and is a professional skill,” Councilwoman Darlene Barber-Martinez said. “We look forward to working with you.”
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The mood was quite different from that of the premeeting staff report, which said tattoo shops are “usually associated” with gangs, drug deals and deadly diseases and must be confronted with emergency action “to alleviate a current and actual threat to the public health, safety and welfare.”
Several artists and supporters took offense.
“We are a wholesome, family-friendly shop,” said Sin Cal owner Jeremy Fennel, a churchgoing Eagle Scout who has applied to relocate within Riverbank. He noted statewide standards enacted two years ago and overseen by county environmental inspectors who verify practitioners’ vaccinations and safety training.
Fennel supports the second applicant, Daniel “Dano” Friedman, who noted that regulations require disposable needles to eliminate infection.
Two women said they work in the medical field and support shops with high standards, as did other supporters – some with tattoos, others without.
Resident Larry King questioned the conclusion that a handful of business license applications constitutes “a current and actual threat to the public health, safety and welfare.”
Ramon Bermudez, who regularly attends council meetings, read from the Old Testament book of Leviticus, which frowns on marking bodies. “That’s the supreme law,” he said.
Chris Martin, pastor of Riverbank’s Living Grace church, noted that the New Testament book of Revelation mentions a vision of Jesus Christ with the words “king of king, lord of lords” written “on his robe and on his thigh,” which some interpret as a tattoo.
A woman who identified herself only as Tammy said, “I also believe in Christ, and I don’t think anything on my body is defiling or lewd.”
The only judgment passed by the council was praise.
“I do not want businesses to go away,” said Councilwoman Leanne Jones Cruz. “We need exactly the opposite.”
Mayor Richard O’Brien, calling tattoos “mainstream, in my opinion,” said the moratorium was meant to give officials time to get a handle on a sudden surge in tattoo interest. Riverbank’s inventory of tattoo shops – two – could double in no time, he said.
John Anderson, the city’s contracted development director, mentioned two other tattoo operations that are not licensed.
Fennel ran unsuccessfully for the council last year. After Tuesday’s vote, he said to Friedman, “Welcome to my city, Dano.”
He then turned to the council and said, “We know a lot about this industry, and we’re definitely here to help.”