Robb Fulcher

Court ruling tattoos Hermosa

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A federal appeals court has struck down Hermosa’s ban on tattoo parlors, saying it violates free speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

An attorney for Gardena tattoo artist Johnny Anderson said city officials must allow his client to open a shop in Hermosa, or continue the legal battle by asking the appeals court to reconsider, or by seeking an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The appeals court “ruled that tattooing is pure speech, including having a tattoo, applying a tattoo, or running a tattoo business,” attorney Robert Moest said. “That’s at the heart of the First Amendment, like having a printing press, or a newspaper, or anything else.”

The City Council will review the ruling at an upcoming meeting and decide how to proceed.

“We are disappointed by the decision reached by this three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals. The Hermosa Beach City Council places a priority on protecting the public’s health and safety, and it adopted this ordinance because of the potential health hazards caused by unsanitary tattoo practices,” City Attorney Michael Jenkins said.

“The judges, in their ruling, acknowledge the potential health hazards, say many tattoo parlors are never inspected and quote Los Angeles County’s only tattoo parlor inspector as saying: ‘there are those practitioners that are unscrupulous or incompetent and do not follow the proper sterilization processes strictly. This poses a risk for infection,’” Jenkins said.

“The judges also note that courts in all other jurisdictions have reached an entirely different conclusion and have not extended First Amendment protection to the business of providing tattoos,” Jenkins said.

Anderson, who lives in Redondo Beach and operates the Your Cheatin’ Heart tattoo salon in Gardena, expressed qualified pleasure with the ruling.

“I feel very happy, but also very nervous about the next steps to come – excited would be the word,” he said. “…I’m relieved that it is close to fruition.”

Anderson hopes to open a shop in Hermosa, perhaps on Pacific Coast Highway, “basically where they will have me,” he said.

“I live right up the street, so it would be close to home,” he said. “I have three small children, so it is a fantasy of mine to be able to go home for lunch.”

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of a lower court and found that the Hermosa Beach Municipal Code unconstitutionally excludes tattoo parlors.

The Hermosa Beach City Council in January 2008 rejected a proposal to allow tattoo parlors along Pacific Coast Highway and Aviation Boulevard, with council members saying the businesses projected a non-family-friendly image and were not wanted by residents.

The council voted 4-1 against a zoning amendment that would have allowed tattoo/body piercing businesses, spaced at least 1,000 feet from each other. The lone dissenter, Councilman Kit Bobko, said he doubted that tattoo parlors would swarm to Hermosa.

Councilman Pete Tucker said the “small community” has no “buffer zones” where a tattoo business could be placed away from homes.

“People in the community don’t want this,” he said. “We want family-oriented businesses and this is not a family-oriented business, per se.”

Then-Councilman Michael DiVirgilio, who has since rotated into the city’s mayoralty, said Hermosans don’t want a tattoo parlor, and he bristled at the thought of being “bullied into it” by Anderson’s lawsuit. ER

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