Ace of Hearts Tattoo opened on Pine Avenue in 2016. 

If you’re in the tattoo industry and are looking for a new home for your shop the City of Long Beach will soon expand the amount of land it considers open to the industry after city council voted Tuesday night to amend its zoning policies surrounding tattoo parlors.

The change in zoning was prompted by a lawsuit brought against the city in 2011 alleging that its rules governing where tattoo parlors could exist infringed on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The suit, filed by James Real, owner of American Beauty Tattoo in Huntington Beach, sought to capitalize on a 2010 ruling that stated tattooing was a federally protected form of free speech.

A draft map of where potential tattoo shops could exist (orange) although its expected to change as buffers are expanded from 500 feet to 700 feet. 

In March 2017, The Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals found that the lawsuit brought against the city unreasonably restricted prospective business owners’ options for establishing new tattoo shops.

“Times have changed a bit and with the court’s new finding there was a need to update the zoning codes,” said Long Beach planning officer Carrie Tai.

Real has tried to open up shop in Long Beach since at least 2011 according to court documents but the existing zoning prohibited the locations he had identified for his future shop. Two of those locations were in the East Village Arts District and Retro Row, two areas incompatible with the zoning prior to his filing the suit. Real also claimed that the conditional use permit (CUP) some shops operate under was unfair and charged excessive fees.

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In 2013, the tattoo parlor Paper Crane Studio opened up in the East Village after the council approved businesses with a CUP to operate there.

There are currently nine tattoo parlors in the city with nearly 500,000 people spread over 50 square miles. The changes in zoning, which currently limit tattoo parlors to the downtown area, along Pacific Coast Highway and other small pockets, could open up much more of Long Beach to prospective tattoo businesses.

Every district in the city could potentially house a parlor along one of its business corridors according to a map presented to the city council Tuesday night, however, a proposal to increase buffer zones from existing parlors and public/private schools from 500 feet to 700 feet could impact what was shown last night.

Due to the changes in the map the city will have to re-notice the hearing and the council will have to re-vote on the zoning changes with an anticipated date of May 1 being part of Tuesday night’s vote.

While the change in zoning would dramatically increase the parcels in Long Beach available to future tattoo businesses, at least one tattoo artist in the city did not think it was a good idea to broaden the city’s zoning.

Joe Kasher, owner of Ace of Hearts Tattoo on Pine Avenue, said that the small community of tattoo artists existing in Long Beach all know and police each other making for a more harmonious relationship among the shops and a safer experience for customers.

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The zoning could lead to shops opening up that don’t follow health regulations and could drive down prices which would financially hurt those existing shops in Long Beach, Kasher said.

“I just feel that it’s very detrimental to the tattoo face of Long Beach to immediately open up what seems to be so much more of the city to anybody who wants to open a tattoo shop,” he said. “I understand it’s because of the lawsuit. It’s not good for tattooing and the industry in Long Beach and I think the way it is right now is fantastic.”

The council will take up the topic again in May where it will likely vote to approve the zoning changes to regain compliance with the court’s findings. The item will then be submitted to the California Coastal Commission for approval as part of the zoning would fall into the jurisdiction of the coastal zone.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.