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DSA In the News

City bans new massage parlors

Published on 7/13/2011

San Carlos officials agreed Monday night to ban new massage permits for 45 days with hopes the county or state will help close licensing loopholes they believe make it easier for prostitution to flourish.

The emergency moratorium can be extended another year by council vote at the end of the 45-day period.

Massage permits weren’t the only city issue facing termination at the council meeting. The City Council also directed staff to further investigate the possibility of banning both single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers, said Assistant City Manager Brian Moura.

The primary question for those bans are not necessarily if they’re desired but if the city will use a county template, possibly saving themselves up to $150,000 for an environmental review, or author their own anti-polystyrene ordinance. Under the county umbrella, an idea received favorably, that jurisdiction would handle outreach and enforcement.

The council seemed to definitely be leaning toward a polystyrene ban but what the single-use bag ban will ultimately look like is “anyone’s guess,” said Mayor Andy Klein.

The council will revisit the idea in the fall.

The city is also hoping the county tweaks its massage ordinance which it can then follow. The state took over massage therapist licensing from individual cities in 2009 and, since then, Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Rothaus, head of the San Carlos Patrol Bureau, said the number of questionable applications has risen significantly on a weekly average. The San Carlos Patrol Bureau of the Sheriff’s Office has also fielded a number of complaints and some massage businesses have been found on escort websites, Rothaus said.

Without any right to deny applications or revoke licenses, Rothaus worried the city is attracting fronts for prostitution and possibly human trafficking. At least one establishment on El Camino Real has been investigated several times, leading to multiple arrests.

The emergency moratorium allows existing locales to renew their permits as long as all therapists have valid, unconditional certificates from the nonprofit California Massage Therapy Council. To obtain a certificate, a person must pass a background and identity check and complete 250 hours of training.

The CAMTC also issues conditional certificates to those who graduated from schools not requiring the same number of classroom or study issues. These can be a sign of illegitimate practitioners, Rothaus said.

Prior to the council vote Monday, CAMTC CEO Ahmos Netanel said the nonprofit actually does revoke or suspend questionable licenses.

In June, the Belmont City Council approved a similar 45-day emergency moratorium.

But while at least these two San Mateo County cities are worried about the state takeover leading to more prostitution, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office has not seen a commensurate increase in cases.