Empowered by a new state law, Santa Clara County authorities have kicked off a campaign to weed out massage parlors that get a little too friendly.
The Rose Massage on Bascom Avenue in San Jose became the first casualty of the crackdown, closing its doors last month. Judging by the litany of South Bay listings, more parlors could soon be in the crosshairs.
The Massage Therapy Act, which took effect at the start of this year, allows local governments to demand additional permitting and background checks. That's in addition to permits individual massage therapists have to obtain through the California Massage Therapy Council.
Already, the county is revising its rules for unincorporated areas. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider further changes to address human trafficking.
"The proposed revisions should regulate professional massage establishments appropriately," Supervisor Cindy Chavez writes in her memo, "recognizing the valuable services they provide, while also combatting illegitimate massage establishments that serve as fronts for commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking thereby harming victims, communities, and the massage profession itself."
San Jose is expected to come up with a similar ordinance.
“Any massage parlor that cannot or will not obtain a proper permit should close today,” Deputy District Attorney Alisha Schoen said in announcing the closure of Rose Massage. “The purpose of the ordinance is to make sure these businesses are not operating as fronts for prostitution.”
As part of an enforcement effort by county lawyers, planners, prosecutors and the Sheriff's Office, Schoen told the owner of Rose Massage that in order to stay open she'd have to submit to a background check to qualify for a local permit. Instead of complying, the owner shut the place down. Five other massage shops remain under investigation, according to the DA.
Massage parlors, illicit or otherwise, proliferated after a state law passed seven years ago limited local authority over the industry. The new county ordinance isn't meant to criminalize legitimate businesses, but to ferret out fronts for prostitution. Officials look for red flags such as covered or opaque windows, late hours, back-of-the-building parking, security cameras screening all customers, locked doors and scantily clad employees. However, the new law prohibits counties and cities from classifying massage parlors as adult entertainment and imposing dress codes or rules about locked doors and private rooms.
Chavez cited a study by the Polaris Project that estimates there are about 4,000 brothels disguised as massage parlors in the US, while Schoen says there are as many as 40,000 nationwide.
- A 10-year-old Campbell boy named Elliot Daniels set a new world record for his age group in the half-marathon, finishing the Oakland Running Festival's 13.1 mile race in one hour, 29 minutes. According to an article in the Oakland Tribune, which ran ahead of the Oakland race day, Elliot only started running a year ago but has already competed in more than 30 races. Supervisors will present the Elliot, who comes from a family of runners, with a commendation.
- Supervisors will consider reducing the cost of inmate phone calls to match rates in San Francisco, where the sheriff cut the fees for a 15-minute intra-state phone call by 70 percent, from $13.35 to $4.05. The reductions are part of a nationwide movement to rein in exorbitant phone fees charged to inmates. In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission called for an end to companies charging commissions and other extraneous fees for inmate phone calls. It also capped per-minute charges at 25 cents for in-state collect calls and 21 cents for prepaid. The county will also offer a PIN card to inmates, so they can add money as they would for commissary items.
- Customers will have to pay 10 percent to 15 percent more for ambulance rides if supervisors approve a set of revisions to a contract with embattled emergency transport provider Rural Metro. The county is also seeking $7 million in relief for the struggling company. For years, Rural Metro has failed to provide timely service, a symptom of its deteriorating financial circumstances that led to a bankruptcy filing last fall. Still, the county agreed to stick it out a little longer, leading to months of discussion about how to carry the weight of an ailing company. Apparently, a drop-off in collections—a 19 percent drop in seven years through 2013—because of an uptick in uninsured patient transports has dramatically reduced revenue for the EMS system. "These factors have created a difficult set of circumstances where Rural Metro is operating with declining collections with a rate for each transport that is approximately 50 percent below the average for the San Francisco Bay Area," according to a memo from County Executive Jeff Smiths' office. "We are estimating that Rural Metro is operating at between an $8 and $10 million annual loss."
- After closing a major cold weather homeless shelter in Sunnyvale, the county has tried to bolster its cold weather shelter program by improving coordination with several agencies, including charities, hospitals and government agencies. Last holiday season, the temperature on several nights dipped to below freezing and strong winds tore up roofs and displaced families at Borello Farms near Morgan Hill. A couple unsheltered homeless people nearly died of exposure. Moving forward, the county will trigger its inclement weather response if the overnight low dips below 38 degrees with less than a 50 percent chance of rain or below 42 degrees with a 50-plus percent chance of rain.
WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001