A TOUCHY SUBJECT ... Palo Alto's quest to upgrade its massage regulations is hitting a nerve among local massage therapists, who are arguing they're being unfairly targeted. The proposed ordinance, which will be discussed Tuesday by the City Council's Policy and Services Committee, would require massage therapists to get one of two types of certification — either a permit from the city or a certificate from the California Massage Therapy Council, an organization formed by the state Legislature to regulate the industry. Palo Alto has 195 massage therapists, according to a report from police Lt. April Wagner. Of those, 111 are California Massage Therapy Council certified. The number of businesses without permits is particularly high around California Avenue, which has about 24 unregulated therapists. But while the city's ordinance aims to comply with state law, some therapists claim the city is pressing too hard. At a tense meeting in April, many cried foul about a logbook that the therapists would have to keep, listing all clients. After hearing these complaints, the city revised its proposal and specified that the logbook would only be presented to the police through a court order. The proposed ordinance also requires non-certified applicants to obtain a criminal-history check and a fingerprint check from the Department of Justice. They would also have to undergo at least 200 hours of education from schools accredited by the Bureau of Private Post Secondary Education, an arm of the Department of Consumer Affairs. But many in the massage establishment remain concerned. David Bertlesen, owner of Happy Feet, claimed that his business (which according to Wagner's report he described as "reflexology" and "foot massage") does not meet the legal definition of "massage." His clients are fully clothed and his employees have no verifiable education in massage technique. Bertlesen alleged that they would leave if the new requirements were enacted. But because his business offers full-body massages (albeit, to fully clothed clients), the city maintains that Happy Feet would be required to meet the certification standards. Wagner claims in her report that the new ordinance is meant to "ensure that those who offer massage services are qualified, trained, and conduct their work in a lawful and professional manner. ... Persons who choose to patronize the therapists within Palo Alto can have confidence that the therapists have successfully met standardized qualifications," she wrote.
HOUSE OF NATURE ... After falling into disrepair and, to some extent, into the San Francisco Bay, the old Sea Scout Building has a new lease on life and will likely soon have a new name. The group Environmental Volunteers had spent three years going through an exhaustive planning process to rehabilitate the building, a project that required permits from 15 different agencies, according to Community Services Director Greg Betts. The rehabilitation of the Birge Clark-designed building kicked off 2008 and was recently completed. Now, to recognize the group's accomplishment, the city is considering renaming the building in the Baylands Nature Preserve as the "Environmental Volunteers EcoCenter." The new nature center, according to Betts, "will complement the good works of the Lucy Evans Interpretive Center" and will offer "a new community resource for environmental education."