2012-03-02 / Front Page

City wants masseuses to receive state’s OK

By Carissa Marsh

With their target set squarely on eradicating erotic massage parlors from the community, city leaders are on the verge of approving an ordinance that would require massage therapists and practitioners working in Simi Valley to obtain certification from the state.

While reviewing the proposed ordinance on Monday, the City Council was on board with the new legal requirement. But before taking the matter to a vote, the council members asked for a few cleanups to the draft law to ensure that legitimate massage facilities—such as Happy Feet or Massage Envy—are not negatively affected.

“ The legitimate massage places want regulations,” Mayor Bob Huber said. “What we’re targeting are the erotic massage parlors that are blatant about advertising their wares, so to speak.”

The council is expected to consider a revised ordinance and take a vote on the issue at its meeting on Mon., March 5.

The need to amend city code arose last fall after Huber was contacted by several business owners who expressed concerns about massage parlors engaging in illegal sexual activity near their shops.

The mayor was particularly angry to learn that many of these massage parlors were listed online, their names and locations easily accessible with details on what sex acts are available.

In an effort to drive these illicit businesses out of town, the Simi Valley Police Department stepped up enforcement, conducting several undercover sting operations in the past three months and arresting five local masseuses on prostitution charges.

In addition, Huber called on City Attorney Tracy Noonan to come up with a legal remedy that would make it easier for the city to regulate massage establishments to prevent sex parlors from masquerading as bona fide massage therapy businesses.

The Simi Valley municipal code includes regulations pertaining to massage therapists and massage establishments. However, when Senate Bill 731 was adopted in 2008, it preempted most local regulations by giving oversight to a newly created state agency, the California Massage Therapy Council.

And Assembly Bill 619, passed last year, further restricted the city’s ability to regulate massage therapists and practitioners, Noonan said.

Prior to these two state laws, the city required massage facilities as well as therapists and practitioners to obtain a permit to operate within the city, and it also authorized inspections to confirm compliance with city rules.

But state legislation centralized licensing with the CMTC, and once an establishment is licensed by the state, a city has very limited authority over its operations.

In order to obtain certification from the state as a massage practitioner, the applicant must demonstrate successful completion of 250 hours of massage education.

Certification for a massage therapist requires 500 hours. In addition, the applicant must pass a state massage and bodywork competency assessment exam.

The problem is that licensing by the state is not mandatory.

Noonan said having a dual regulatory scheme—one that applies to people who are licensed by the state and one for those who are not—has created confusion when a city attempts to regulate a massage establishment since there may be facilities that employ both state-certified and non-certified therapists and practitioners.

To get clarity on the issue, most cities are adopting ordinances that make it mandatory for massage therapists and practitioners to be licensed by the state.

As proposed, the new ordinance would require that:

•All massage therapists and practitioners operating within Simi Valley must be certified by the state.

•All massage establishments must hire only state-certified therapists and practitioners.

•All massage establishment owners—someone who owns 5 percent or more—who are not certified by the state must submit an application for approval to the chief of police to conduct a limited background check.

•State certificates of all massage therapists and practitioners must be publicly displayed.

In addition, facilities would have to meet certain standards regarding lighting, dressing rooms, disinfection of instruments and cleanliness of the facility. Also, a price list for all services must be publicly displayed.

A violation of any provision of the ordinance could result in revocation of the massage establishment’s approval.

The new law also authorizes inspections, with or without notice, by the police department and the city’s building and safety department.

Since the ordinance would apply to all existing massage establishments, the new rules wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2013, in order for those facilities to continue operating while their employees obtain state certification.

“That will allow time for the current therapists and practitioners in the city to go through the state process and get their certification,” Noonan said.

Glennda Donate, owner of the Massage Envy franchise in Simi Valley, thanked the council for recognizing the need for such an ordinance.

“This really give legitimacy to massage establishments that are trying to make a difference,” she said.

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