By Bill Parry
A Queens lawmaker is taking action against two quality-of-life issues in his district, prostitution and a lack of parking in the residential neighborhoods around LaGuardia Airport.
After hearing repeated complaints in recent weeks and months and receiving a business card from one of them, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) unveiled legislation last Friday that will require massage therapy businesses to register with the Department of State. Under this proposal these massage parlors would be mandated to apply for a four-year license, enabling consumers and the state to know which businesses are legitimate and which are “bad actors” that have set up shop on Roosevelt Avenue, Broadway and Astoria Boulevard in Jackson Heights and Corona, according to Peralta.
“Simply put, this legislation intends to weed out establishments that serve as fronts for prostitution and prevent their proliferation,” Peralta said. “These businesses, unfortunately, push human trafficking, so it is vital we ensure the victims, who are promised good jobs and good money, are not charged with anything and are able to get resources to get back on their feet.”
While noting many of the businesses are legitimate, the ones doing business during overnight hours likely are not.
“If you’re open past a certain hour and you’re only catering to men who pass by, red flags will go up,” Peralta said.
Under his proposal, the licenses must be displayed by the massage therapy businesses in a visible location near the entrance of the establishment. Licenses will cost $60 and those who fail to register face penalties of up to six months in prison and $2,500 fines. The fines and fees would go towards enforcement.
“This bill protects the good businesses from the bad ones, and it will close down the businesses owned by shoddy operators,” Peralta said. “I receive complaints from my constituents all the time. Some are walking home and are offered massages at 11, 12 at night, 1 in the morning. Who is going for a massage at those times?” Peralta asked.
The proposal will authorize the Department of State to keep track of licenses using the same mechanism as it currently does for similar establishments, such as hair and nail salons.
“Let’s fight prostitution and assist the victims of human trafficking,” Peralta said and he addressed the lack of on-street parking around LaGuardia announcing Tuesday he had introduced legislation calling for the establishment of a residential parking permit program in Queens.
According to the bill, the city will create a one-year parking pilot zoned for the area covering a two-mile radius of the airport. Additionally, the legislation requires that the parking permit system makes 20 percent of the spaces available to non-residents.
“Commuters, travelers, visitors, worker, all look for curb-side parking space for their cars, leaving residents without too many options to park their vehicles,” Peralta said. “Residential parking permits have been implemented in many cities across the nation, and according to a poll, New Yorkers would be willing to pay a reasonable fee to find it easier and faster to find a parking space.
Under the proposal, the City Council will set fees and fines for the program and drivers will have to display the parking permit on their vehicle. The state Legislature will have to approve the measure before the city implements it.
“This is a pilot program. If it works we can expand it to other parts of the city,” Peralta said. “If it doesn’t, we will definitely study other alternatives.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr