Massage parlors target of proposed crackdown

The city of Huntington Beach has taken its first step into placing stricter regulations on massage parlors Monday night.

Passing in a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Jim Katapodis absent, the ordinance laid out provisions to crack down on illicit massage parlors.

Some provisions include being certified by the city, allowing certified businesses to only hire state-certified massage therapists and preventing parlors from opening at a location where a previous business was closed due to violating city law within 12 months.

But representatives from the nonprofit agency California Massage Therapy Council asked council members to delay passing the first reading so they can work with the city to ensure the proposed amendments don't interfere with state law.

"We only received this ordinance [Monday] morning," said Ahmos Netanel, chief executive officer of the state-operated group that has overseen the massage profession since 2009. "Our legal staff has not had the opportunity to review it, but we will be preparing a comprehensive report listing all the items and ordinances that conflict with state law."

Netanel argues that the city's proposed amendments are directed solely at massage businesses and break state law.

"It says a city can impose any kind of rules and regulations on certified massage therapists or establishment that only uses certified massage professionals as long as they uniformly apply to other licensed professions," he said. "This ordinance has many rules and regulations that do not apply to other professions. It specifically targets certified massage therapists."

City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said she and Huntington Beach Police Chief Ken Small met with the group "eight months ago and honestly both of us thought that what we presented was what they said they would accept."

She added that she or her staff will be working with the massage therapy council to fix any issues.

The city has seen a jump in the number of massage establishments since January 2009 when the California Massage Therapy Council was put in charge of overseeing most of the licensing and monitoring responsibilities of massage establishments.

Prior to the establishment of the therapy council, Huntington Beach had nine massage parlors. Now that number has boosted to approximately 65.

"Overwhelmingly, the increase has been illicit massage establishments," Small said during a presentation Monday night. "The number of massage establishments continues to grow every month and based on our experience in Huntington Beach, the oversight by the California Massage Therapy Council has proven to be inadequate and ineffective."

Emily Cohen, director of the California College of Physical Arts Massage School in Huntington Beach, said the proposed changes won't affect existing businesses too much, but might discourage those who want to start.

"It kind of makes people feel like they're not involved in something legitimate," she said. "I like the people that graduate from my school to feel like they're doing the right thing, that's good and appropriate."

Twitter: @acocarpio

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World