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Our Community Focus

New Ordinance for Massage Establishments and Therapists

Jan 31, 2015 01:58PM ● By Elena Hutslar

On January 12, Pleasant Hill City Council members approved an ordinance requiring owners of massage establishments to obtain a police permit to operate in the city. The massage establishment permit applicant must pass a background check that includes fingerprinting, approximately $79 for residents and $89 for non-residents, and meet the conditions and requirements of the ordinance. The chief of police would make the final decision on the massage establishment permit, which would be good for two years. Massage establishments would be required to obtain a police permit within 45 days of the effective date of the ordinance. No massage establishment and no registered massage therapist or practitioner may provide massage service between the hours of 10pm and 7pm.

The proposed revisions of Municipal Code Chapter 6.30 are a result of a new state law (Assembly Bill 1147) that took effect on January 1, 2015, allowing cities to once again require a police permit for massage establishment businesses. The proposed ordinance includes a mechanism for a reconsideration hearing before the police chief upon notice of a denial of a massage establishment permit. Home-based massage businesses are not included.

In 2008, the California Legislature adopted legislation that created the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), a nonprofit organization responsible for issuing certificates to massage therapists or practitioners and disciplining them for unlawful acts.  The 2008 state legislation created two categories of massage therapists: certified and uncertified. Local governments were preempted by state regulation and had very little authority to regulate certified massage therapists or massage businesses that use only CAMTC certified professionals. Cities have not been able to regulate certified therapists who engage in illegal activities. The number of massage establishments and independent contractors in the city of Pleasant Hill has increased from 48 in 2012 to 82 in 2014. Since October 3, 2013, the police department has conducted 41 undercover operations at 16 massage establishments in the city, resulting in nine arrests for acts of prostitution.

“It feels too much to me to put judge, jury and executioner all in one place, one person, without some greater clarity around what the ultimate criteria are. I’m not clear how the police chief is to make the determination about whether such an act prohibited has occurred. It cannot be the case that the police chief simply says, ‘act was prohibited, end of discussion’. There has to be something more than just a ‘belief’ on the part of the chief that the prohibited act has occurred,” said city councilmember David Durant.

A new set of fingerprints would provide the police chief with additional information about the applicant. “The fingerprints will provide me with a criminal history check and within that check it may include arrests but not convictions. An arrest may be something that I want to look at more closely, whether or not I want to issue a permit to that establishment,” said Police Chief John Moore.

Added to the ordinance will be a line that indicates an annual report by the police department that includes permits issued, denied, suspended or revoked, as well as other enforcement related activity be provided to the city council for review.