Now that cities have more oversight over massage parlors, San Jose is weighing how to rein in prostitution while protecting the rights of legitimate businesses.
The City Council on Tuesday will hear the San Jose Police Department’s game plan for enacting local regulations that took effect at the start of this year.
From 2008 to 2015, California law limited local control over the massage industry. Massage therapists no longer had to obtain city permits and police departments no longer kept track of how many worked in their jurisdiction.
Last year, however, the state once again empowered local governments to keep a closer eye on massage businesses. Santa Clara County soon after passed a regional regulatory scheme. Months later, San Jose’s City Council approved its own ordinance that once again bolstered local oversight and required city-specific use permits.
Going forward, massage patrons in San Jose can enter a parlor only through the front door, massage tables must sit at least two feet away from each wall and no sleeping quarters are allowed in any massage parlor.
San Jose’s Vice Unit has mapped out 295 massage parlors within city limits, many of them in clusters of five to 15 along busy thoroughfares and older strip malls.
Police have been asking other cities for guidance on how to use the new regulatory tools given by recent amendments to state massage laws.
San Francisco used to require a use permit and 1,000-foot buffer between massage parlors until the state relaxed regulations in 2011 by limiting local oversight. Though the city has yet to revive the old rules, it has formed a commission to monitor parlors with help from police, health, planning, and building and fire officials.
San Jose has taken a similar tack to cracking down on massage shops suspected of sex work or human trafficking. Those efforts to date have shuttered 21 massage parlors over the past few years.
Police targeted those locations based on complaints and confirmed the allegations through criminal investigations. Lux Spa on North 14th Street and Heavenly Spa on North First Street had to close because employees weren’t properly licensed, police said.
The city relies on help from police, its in-house attorney, planning and code enforcement offices as well as the federal Department of Labor. Zoning rules require a massage business to lie at least 200 feet away from homes and at least 500 feet from schools.
City officials will consider whether a massage parlor’s closure because of human trafficking or prostitution should disqualify that location from housing a new massage business. The city attorney has yet to determine the legality of that rule.
Meanwhile, San Jose is bracing for “a potential onslaught” of permit requests under the new ordinance. The Vice Unit will send letters in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Korean to all known massage businesses informing them of the new requirements.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for April 5, 2016:
- San Jose may spend $1.2 million on empty land to build up to 40 below-market-rate apartment units. The adjacent Almaden Valley properties comprise less than half an acre. The city’s Redevelopment Agency bought them for nearly $2.1 million in 2008.
- City attorney Richard Doyle is requesting permission to travel to Dublin, Ireland, as part of the San Jose Dublin Sister City Delegation. The goal of these events is to ... oh, why bother.
- Vice Mayor Rose Herrera is requesting permission for a quick trip to England next month to promote new British Airways flights between San Jose and London.
- Because of a lack of money, the city has racked up a backlog of technologies that need replacement, according to a new audit. “A technology must be funded to be effective,” city auditor Sharon Erickson wrote in her review. “Despite being in the center of Silicon Valley, the city’s funding for its IT department is lower than other California jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions not only spend more money, but are taking a proactive and strategic funding approach based on technology replacement life cycles to meet their future technology needs and vision.”
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260