Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 8, 2011

Proposed massage law breeds tension in Palo Alto

Massage therapists protest city's proposal to require detailed logs of customer information

by Gennady Sheyner

A Palo Alto proposal to require massage businesses to keep detailed logs of clients has hit a nerve among local massage therapists who claim the proposal smacks of "Big Brother"-style intrusion.

More than 30 massage therapists attended a meeting Tuesday afternoon to hear about the changes, which city officials say would bring Palo Alto in compliance with state law. The proposed ordinance would raise the educational requirements for massage therapists, require them to purchase malpractice insurance and create a new category called "sole proprietor" for single-person massage businesses.

The most touchy aspect of the new ordinance is a requirement that massage establishments keep a written log that includes the date and hour of each service; the name, address and sex of each patron; the service provided; and the technician administering the service. Palo Alto police Sgt. April Wagner said the logs would remain at the massage establishments and would only be accessed by police during inspections and criminal investigations.

"It's for police official use only," Wagner said. "It's not something that would be published anywhere.

"It's to protect the people going there, to protect massage therapists themselves from false accusations."

Code Enforcement Officer Heather Johnson said other Peninsula cities, including Millbrae, San Mateo and Belmont, have similar requirements.

But this explanation failed to appease some audience members, including David Bena, who called it "Big Brother stuff." Others argued that their profession is being unfairly singled out by the city for onerous new regulations.

Donald Howard, a massage therapist who has been practicing in California since 1975, described the clause as "totally outrageous and absurd" and claimed that his clients would object to having their names submitted to the police for possible use in criminal investigations.

"It's an infringement on the privacy of clients," Howard said. "I personally work on clients that live in Atherton and Menlo Park that I'm sure would not appreciate having their names on a list and think it's just as absurd as I do."

Susan Nightingale, co-owner of Watercourse Way, said the new ordinance should require the police to go through the due process and get a court order before the client information is released. She encouraged staff to add the requirement for a court order to the new ordinance.

"I think the laws are in place to protect everyone," Nightingale said. "I don't see why we have to leave the step out."

Interim City Attorney Donald Larkin said the broader purpose of the massage-ordinance overhaul is to abolish the obsolete law currently on the books and to bring the city in compliance with Senate Bill 731, a 2008 law that requires message therapists and technicians to carry certification. Larkin said the state bill has given the city the motivation to update its own code.

Palo Alto's existing ordinance allows massages (defined as "any method of pressure on, or friction against, or stroking, kneading, rubbing, tapping, pounding, vibrating or stimulating the external parts of the human body with the hands or with the aid of any mechanical or electrical apparatus, or other appliances or devices, with or without such supplementary aids as rubbing alcohol, liniment, antiseptic, oil, powder, cream, lotion, ointment or other similar preparations") to take place only in "massage establishments." These establishments, under the existing definition, have more than one massage technician. The new ordinance would allow single-person establishments to legally function.

"We're missing a whole segment of the population of therapists trying to do work in Palo Alto," Wagner said. "They're trying to operate successful businesses, but we don't have certification of them.

"We're bringing those businesses into compliance."

Palo Alto officials plan to hold several more meetings and make further revisions to the massage ordinance before it's presented to the City Council in the fall. Larkin said the new ordinance would likely take effect in early 2012.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by m, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:14 am

This is a totally ridiculous statement made by these "therapists".....They are regulated and need to be accountable. They are (or should be) asking medical information from the clients in order to proceed. They are having them sign consent forms (or should be). They already HAVE TO KEEP DOCUMENTS. They should have to keep a log to make sure they are protecting the public and keeping records.

FYI Some of these places could be fronts for prostitution and the public and workers need to be protected as well as the entire industry.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:29 am

"We're bringing those businesses into compliance."

Next step:

"We're bringing those ordinary citizens into compliance."


look up newspeak for details...


Posted by Alfred E Newman, a resident of Atherton
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:49 am

Why do conservatives always support intrusive, big government?

I thought their "invisible hand of the free market" was all we needed.

Or with a masseuse, two hands.

Maybe feet, too.

WMW?


Posted by Darwin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:50 am

This sounds like a great law!

Next we should have store clerks write down the names of every customer who buys alcohol, you know, for the safety of the customers. We should require gas stations to keep logs of every customer who buys gas too, so that the government can know who's being the least fuel efficient.

Dad gummit, we should just start marking down every license plate of all cars coming in and out of Palo Alto so we can control the riff raff.


Posted by I Love Massages, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:54 am

What problem are we trying to solve? Don't we have something better to do with our city staff budget than this?


Posted by To Alfred, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:07 am


Alfred, your comment was obviously meant to be a joke. You couldn't possibly be serious! Thanks for the laugh... :) And if there is a slight chance that you were serious, then I guess I've seen yet another comment from a clueless local.


Posted by Live Darwin!, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:10 am


Darwin, you are so right!!! Most people don't know what's going on today - and that our rights are being eroded at an alarming rate. Your proposals will certainly help things along! :)

Why do we have the mentality in so many areas that when one bad thing happens, all will suffer due to the draconian new rules we inevitably put into place?


Posted by Ionne, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:17 am

Let's not interfere with that healing touch (I can only afford one a year on my birthday). At this rate, pretty soon they'll require that saran wrap be used between the masseuse's hands and the customer's body!


Posted by Carlito Waysman, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:20 am


I don't see the reason for the Massage parlor owners to complain about new regulations, although the new rules are not 100% tamper proof(the customer can give a fake name, address, etc), still sends a message that those business are monitored by the city. Is no secret that massage parlors, specially the Asian massage parlors are a cover for prostitution, otherwise just check Asian Massage parlors in San Jose, Redwood City, San Francisco, Belmont, Fremont and so on.

Do you want that kind of business in your City or neighborhood?


Posted by stretch, a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

My, Carlito - you certainly have a lot of inside information on those Asian massage parlors! The City went through a cleansing of massage parlors back in the late 70's, early 80's. There were lots of mattresses and such confiscated and sold at auction (the City stored everything on the loading docks at the yard, and everyone got a big laugh out of it). Books can be "cooked", and the information is useless, so why even bother collecting it, especially form legitimate businesses? Let's see....if there were no demand for kinky massage/prostitution there would be no problem, eh guys?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"FYI Some of these places could be fronts for prostitution and the public and workers need to be protected as well as the entire industry."
Other equally suspect businesses are law offices, doctor and dental offices, and just about any place where there is privacy and opportunity. Why not just require picture windows for any such office?


Posted by Charlie, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

It always takes the police or undercover agents couple years and a 1000 visits to crack a parlor's prostitution case. OK. Does the agent use the same name everytime?


Posted by FingersNPalms, a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I have mixed feelings about this due to police involvement. However, when I was certified to practice massage therapy, I was taught to keep files on clients, as I have done. I was also taught when a client needed a doctor's permission for a massage and when massage would enhance medical or physical therapy treatment. I kept such records when I practiced, w/out complaint from my clients.

What I do think is funny is that PAPD is involved - the former employer of our scofflaw sheriff who is fond of young ladies out of state masquerading as real massage therapists. Why he's still in office is puzzling...

Speaking of which, does anyone else recall all the massage parlors in Palo Alto & Mt. View?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm

> Speaking of which, does anyone else recall all the massage parlors in Palo Alto & Mt. View?

Oh, yes. They were the scourge of Barron Park. PaloAltoHistory has a web page about it: Web Link

If we had something similar today, no doubt many people in other parts of town would be calling the citizens of Barron Park NIMBY's and "anti-business" for wanting these kind of establishments removed.


Posted by MJ, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Palo Alto's proposed requirement for collecting personal information for possible police use is offensive and somewhat creepy. Particularly because, as far as I know, other businesses that operate in the city do not have this requirement. The implication is that the city assumes I have illicit intentions until proven innocent.

Do all the other local cities mentioned in this article have this particular requirement?. Is this a standard requirement anywhere else in California, or are we being singled out? And what ID will be considered proof? Does the ordinance require massage therapists check my driver's license? Or can I just give a false name to protect my identity?

The police don't need this information to do a successful sting. About eight years ago there were two illegal massage parlors operating in Palo Alto, one near the old Alma Plaza and the other on Birch street. The police were able to investigate both these establishments successfully and shut them down.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm

If I were in the mindset of needing to use a massage parlor for a massage, I would choose one that is in compliance of laws, keeps records, and completely above board. I would do the same for any business which needs to touch me, regardless of whether it was medical, such as nail spa, beauty parlor, dentist or whatever.

If I lived next door to such business, I would want it to be likewise.

Otherwise, how can I be certain that it was legitimately doing what it says it does?

French lessons anyone?


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm

This is unbelievably stupid. What a waste of time and taxpayer dollars!


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm

My sister owns a massage spa out-of-state. I don't suspect that she will be coming here.

It will simply end driving up the cost of business (and prices) of legitimate massage therapy centers while giving the government yet another foothold into private businesses (and our lives).

Yes, prostitution is a problem. However, I think that it is more of a problem on Craigslist than it is in massage therapy centers and spas.


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Apr 6, 2011 at 6:18 pm

...the police are our friends? right. like the guy who posts he knows that asian massage parlors are a cover for prostitution rings. maybe a little too much inside info given there. just another reason to give police an excuse to hang out in massage parlors.


Posted by Michael Vilain, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I keep client records complete with session notes. Currently, those are available by subpoena which insurance companies have done a couple times in the last 15 years I've been in practice. Los Gatos has a "surrender on demand" clause in their massage ordinance which allows a warrantless search. I have no problem surrendering client information if a warrant is served.

_m_'s idea that this will regulate illegitimate and illegal practitioners is typical of the uninformed "public". As part of my training some 15 years ago, I had to get 3 "professional" massages. I chose 2 from local papers (this was pre-Craigslist). The two in the throwaway papers were anything but professional compared with one I got at Body Therapy Center where I trained.

This regulation is above and beyond what is described in SB 731 and the PA Police department are spinning it as keeping in-line with what other cities are doing. I'm wondering when some courageous CMT take Los Gatos to court to get their ordinance thrown out. San Jose just decided it was easier to charge $3000/year for a business license.


Posted by Joke, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm

What we need is to legalize prostitution, so then nobody has to wander around wondering if the massage palor is 'legit'
Tax it, make jobs, make money, have health care. Everyone wins.
Its the stupidest thing to have illegal since there a giant legal porn industry and state paid 'sex workers' used for therapy. Yes, there are state legal prostititues.

Seriously, this is the crux of the argument. Period. Nobody is concerned with anything else with Massage places.


Posted by Mikel, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2011 at 9:04 am

This is treating professional massage therapists as if they were conducting prostitution. When is Palo Alto going to pull itself out of the dark ages rather then deeper into them? I would assume it is obvious who is running prostitution rings and who is legitimate. I assume those who get facials, hair cuts, get their nails done or any other job that entails healing the body is included in this? I go to a clinical massage therapist, much like physical therapy. I for one do not want the police or anyone else knowing what physical problems I have and specifically want to keep that between my massage healer and my injuries.


Posted by homegirl, a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:49 am

The Republic of Palo Alto. When is the 'Wall" going up? Ridiculous!
This is The USA. The Government need not know who rubs me or who I rub.For Christ Sakes, you may as well put a camera in my bedroom to make sure I am in compliance with who I'm touching and if I'm doing it right!
Silly, Silly PA.


Posted by Keiffer, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:51 am

but we don't have certification of them.

Translation: There are fees we could collect.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2011 at 12:36 am

What strikes me is that when a story comes out about a law like this or others, people start to make fun and have a grand old time ridiculing the"government" which has become the whipping boy of all problems in our world these days.

It just sort of ends there. The derisive comments just turn people away from deeper discussion.

What occurs to me is that we as ctiizens are not doing our jobs. No wonder things in the country are so out of wack and uncoordinated, no one knows anything or gets involved in anything, they just seek out the most cool smart-ass remark and subscribe to that milou and that is pretty much all people seem to care about, except occsionally trying to make the most smart-ass remark.

My thought is that all laws ought to be required to have a logical basis that is published in the media so we can all know who believes that when someone gets a massage it needs to be tracked, and why they think this, what the cost would be, what the pros and cons would be, and then a discussion around that should ensue.

It seems to me that this law would be a kind of chilling effect on the business of massage, driving it onto the internet and out of brick and mortar businesses and end up being less regulated. In any case since I really know little about this whole world, I want to know why, what is the cost, what is the benefit and why law enforcement needs to know these things. Also, how easy would it be to fake these things, and what is the use of them?

That should be in some kind of public broadcast and the people should decide, unless there is some overriding federal state or moral matter?


Posted by Perspective, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 11, 2011 at 4:33 am

Anon: They are out of whack because we have, for the most part, given up local control to State and Fed control.

At least this is a LOCAL issue, ( real or not) with LOCAL people choosing what to do or not do.

If locals care, get involved, if not, stay away. I am just happy it is locally controlled.


Posted by Wendy, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm

May it be requested that when discussing the legitimate bodywork centers in the area the word "parlor" not be used. It is a derogatory term. A good clue is that legitimate establishments never use that word in the business names.

I hope the history of the "sweep" in the 70's comes to light and that the language and requirements of the existing ordinace are made known to the public who has no idea what is now in place. As it is now a sole propriatorship is not legal. It is not legal to practice bodywork in your home or in a small office somewhere that is not covered by the existing ordinance. When one applies for a permit to do bodywork in Palo Alto one is fingerprinted, a background check is made, a fee is paid and you are required to prove where you will be working and it has to be in a permitted establishment within the City limits. In order to be a permitted establishment your center needs to be located within a particular zone, away from residential areas, and they need to be space a certain distance from each other. The present day Massage Therapy Center on California Avenue in Palo Alto arose out of the Massage Center, the only Massage establishment left standing after the sweep. The Massage Center conformed with the newly enacted ordanince (in the 70's), proved itself to be a legitimate business and school and was allowed to stay in a grandfathered location for a few years until it could move to an approved zone as required by the ordinance. The partners in the Massage Center organization went various way, with a few establishing the present day Massage Therapy Center, a few of us becomming the first Therapists to ever be licensed in Menlo Park and others forming their own organizations in other communities. It is my understanding that the new ordinance is intended to bring the sole propriatorships "into the fold" and provide a legal way for them to practice their therapy within the City of Palo Alto. The questions I have are whether or not they will be required to follow the letter of the original ordinance and locate themselves in the permitted zones within the City and if so, will the City be approving these locations and verifying that they follow the requirements? It will be very difficult to locate these many therapists within these zones with the existing distance reqirments etc. I do not believe that the City has thought this through regarding these issues. If the sole propriatorships are allowed to locate anywhere we may be headed back to days of "massage parlors", with strings of storefront "parlors" on El Camino or perhaps not so legitimate people working out of their homes in residential areas. I am not saying that this will happen, I am saying that without the enforcement of the present ordinanace it could happen.

Client records are always kept by legitimate centers - if nothing else it is basic good businees practice. Malpractice insurance usually requires this as well.

On a last note, one can not help but feel that the City might see this as a way to generate revenue by bringing all of these sole propriatorships "into the fold". If these funds are collected what will the revenue go to support? Enforcement of the existing ordinance? It will be a big job and will cost the City in funds and personnel resources.

Meanwhile, the criteria of what constitutes a "massage" includes rubbing, kneading, tapping, pressure, friction, skin on skin contact. These actions are also utilized when one is doing a facial, a pedicure, a manicure, hair styling, bikini waxing (in this case close to some very personal areas on the client) and I would ask if these establishments will also be regulated in order to make sure these businesses are also legitimate? Will they also be required to keep records on their clients in case there is a complaint about inappropriate behaviour? And if not, why would there be discrimination between these types of businesses?


Posted by hubba hubba, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Just reading the description "any method of pressure on, or friction against, or stroking, kneading, rubbing, tapping, pounding, vibrating or stimulating the external parts of the human body with the hands or with the aid of any mechanical or electrical apparatus, or other appliances or devices, with or without such supplementary aids as rubbing alcohol, liniment, antiseptic, oil, powder, cream, lotion, ointment or other similar preparations" makes me feel all sexy! Way more exciting than any pro massage ive had.

This is a huge joke and waste of time; malpractice insurance, are you serious? ""It's for police official use only," Wagner said. "It's not something that would be published anywhere.
"It's to protect the people going there, to protect massage therapists themselves from false accusations." How would any of this prevent false accusations!

FREE OUR RUB please


Posted by David, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 11, 2011 at 10:25 pm

It makes sense to require to have the masseuse verify his or her health is good for the contact with the customers.
It makes no sense at all to require these business to keep a detailed log of the customers. You cannot control the health condition of the customers who visit these businesses.

If the city is really interested in protecting the residents, try keeping logs on all the customers who use restaurants, who line up at the drug stores, who congregate in the theaters, etc. That should keep the places relatively clean and healthy, and free of those people with contagious diseases.

Now if it is about prostitution that we do not want, you just cannot intrude upon a business and assume that it will become a brothel. Get the evidence with the decoys, and then haul them in.

It is absurd that requiring the business to keep the record, so that the business can be prosecuted later, if it did anything wrong.

Do the city gov't folks seriously believe those data be kept accurate? Get real, please.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Since PA seems to be " worried about PROSTITUTION ",( AKA scamming for money ),then why not go after all the LAW OFFICES and LIARS, oops,I mean LAWYERS...

There is a HUGE amount of money to be made off these PROSTITUTES....

Oh,I forgot, these type of PROSTITUTES run City Hall and the PAPD....

And practice " professional courtesy "....


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