New Law Allows County to Tighten Massage Parlor Rules

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.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for May 5, 2015:

  • 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 Tribunewhich 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

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. “Judging by the litany of South Bay listings, more parlors could soon be in the crosshairs.” Better watch out, Jen—a bunch of them advertise in Metro, which helps pay your salary.

  2. How does the media typically portray the signing of a new law or initiation of an enforcement campaign when it is certain to disproportionately impact one particular group?

    If the subject is driving without a license and the impacted group disproportionately Hispanic illegal aliens, the media portrays the law as either unfair, racist, imprudent, or all of the above. Same if the subject is the curbside dealing of drugs and the impacted group disproportionately black, or the subject is public health and the impacted group disproportionately homosexual. Whenever the impacted group is one anointed by the media with favored status, neither the written law nor the enforcement of it will be treated to responsible and fair reporting.

    The Massage Therapy Act (a better name would’ve been The Unhappy Endings Act) will disproportionately result in closing the businesses of, as well as the arrest and conviction of, Asian-Americans. Yet, in Ms. Wadsworth’s reporting of it, we find nary a mention of Asian, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean — the ethnicities that are destined to adorn the majority of the booking sheets produced by this crackdown. Despite being typically treated with outrage and alarm, racial disproportion will, at least in this case, go unnoticed.

    Why? Did Asians not make the media’s anointed cut? Well, yes and no. Whenever they can serve other purposes, such as the tarnishing of American history or promoting white guilt, the news media will reliably give Asians the oppressed minority treatment. But when it comes to actually protecting the interests of Asian-Americans the media is far less reliable. Take, for instance, education, a matter of supreme importance to their community, yet Asian-Americans with the highest test scores are routinely denied entry to America’s top universities — by the same administrators who, besides admitting Jewish students at a suspiciously disproportionate factor of more than ten, consistently grant admission to illiterate and mediocre minorities who score at the top only in skin color. This social injustice aimed specifically at Asian-Americans has apparently failed to attract the attention of the news media, despite the fact that Harvard is currently being sued.

    And please, in regard to the Unhappy Endings Act, let us not fool ourselves that the media considers these Asian masseuses immoral. The media has no morals, nor has it shown itself above providing political support for whores (as it proved by adopting the judgment-neutral term “sex workers”). In fact, the news media has pulled off a pretty neat trick by making sure to spare from condemnation the hookers themselves in any story in which casts prostitution in a bad light.

    The reality is that America’s concept of social justice has been hijacked by the news media, a tightly-controlled, for-profit entity that serves America’s true interests only occasionally and usually without intent. Sadly, injustice has become whatever the news media says it is; truth has been turned into a garnishment for the serving of lies; and, as admirable men such as Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly were made to understand, group identity and high achievement offer no protection when the media is serving someone else’s interests.

  3. basically the city/govt is pissed that these people are pocketing money without paying taxes on it..they use the cop out of sex trafficking to make the public think they are doing something good..this isnt the 70s or 80s when that was an actual issue..most of these girls that work in these places are american born or american citizens now..they do this because its EASY you think the city really cares if these people are actual CMT’s with licenses and are legal immigrants, of course not, they are just mad beccause these girls make anywhere from 200-1500 a week depending on how far they are willing to service and that they dont pay taxes on that money because its under the table..instead of putting our tax paying money into helping the police focus on things like homicides, robbery and the all new popular suicide jumpers, they would rather bust these girls giving hand jobs and what not that is between 2 consenting adults and hurts no one nor does it cost anyone money unlike having to cover up graffiti every time its on the is the act of happy endings illegal, of course but if i had to rate whats more important in my city, i would put that on the low end because like i said, its their money and body…doesnt hurt me one bit or my neighbors…id rather focus on bigger issues in this city…this is just like how they tried to shut down coffee shops because of so called illegal gambling when all it was is the city not making money off these machines these shops had because they would collect the money every night and not claim it so its now know as ILLEGAL GAMBLING…

  4. Why are the politician and the officials continued to lie to the public. Every man knows that massage parlors employ workers who are 99% volunteers and the officers keep insisting that they are victims of human trafficking. Whatever, keep on lying to us – for whatever political reasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *