Elk Grove and Folsom have approved moratoriums on new massage businesses, joining other communities across the state that have sought to stop prostitution from operating under the guise of a legitimate enterprise.
Last week, the Elk Grove City Council unanimously approved a 45-day stop on new massage businesses, while their counterparts in Folsom approved a ban for the same period for people offering massages in their homes.
Staff members in both cities plan to return to their councils with proposals for regulating the industry. Responding to widespread concern about prostitution and human trafficking in massage parlors, the Legislature in September approved a law returning land-use restrictions over massage businesses to local governments.
Since then, Sacramento County and other local governments have discussed restrictions for the industry, but they’ve faced strong opposition from some massage therapists who don’t want to be penalized for the actions of others.
“If you are actually a massage therapist – not a prostitute – it’s really hard work,” said Sonja Sekigahama, who operates a massage spa out of her Folsom home. “There are only so many hours in the day.”
In the last year, Elk Grove police have arrested four women on suspicion of prostitution at three massage parlors, said Elk Grove police Lt. Joe Young. One woman was turned over to federal immigration agents because she was a trafficking victim, he said. She was from China, as are most of the prostitutes in the massage parlors, he said.
Working with the City Attorney’s Office, police were able to get the business licenses for the three parlors revoked, Young said. However, all three establishments have attempted to reopen in the same locations, using different names on the applications, which is one reason for the moratorium, Young said.
In Folsom, two women were arrested at a massage parlor in December, and a home-based massage business has had issues with law enforcement, Assistant City Attorney Steve Wang told the City Council last week before the council approved the moratorium.
The city already has a strong enough ordinance to deal with problem massage parlors, said Folsom City Attorney Bruce Cline. But the passage of the state law gave the city the incentive to address home-based massage businesses, which are not covered by the ordinance, he said.
Two massage therapists asked the Folsom council not to approve restrictions that would hurt legitimate businesses. Connie Chan told council members that some young massage therapists need to start out of their homes, as they build their practices, and can’t afford their own office.
Massage therapists have complained about proposed restrictions in Sacramento County, in large part due to a possible $1,000 permitting fee that planners have said is necessary to recoup the costs of reviewing massage operations. Some county supervisors have said they are opposed to the fee, so county planners have been working with massage therapists on a revised proposal.
In Elk Grove, Councilman Patrick Hume said he was initially opposed to the moratorium because he sees it as “punitive to legitimate massage parlors.” He said he reluctantly went along with it because it will be in place for only 45 days and because it is aimed at past offenders who are trying to reopen.