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Council Votes To Request City Mgr. Report Sought By Vice Mayor Dan Baker On "Therapeutic Massage and Other Spa Services" Incl. Feasibility of Admin. or Code Changes To Create "Friendlier Environment"

(April 11, 2001) -- Below are transcript excerpts of the April 10, 2001 City Council meeting which discussed the following agendized item by Vice Mayor Dan Baker:

Request City Manager prepare a report on the current state of the law regarding the provision of therapeutic massage and other spa services in Long Beach. This report should address the feasibility of making administrative and/or code changes to create a friendlier environment for small businesses to better serve the needs of our residents and visitors.

Transcript below is excerpted; not all speakers or statements are presented.

Vice Mayor Dan Baker

...I just want to start off by saying this is a very simple request this evening and really requires not a lot of action on the part of the Council, other than asking our Manager to look into this and get back to us.

But I must say that it's created some concern amongst the e-mail chatter I viewed this weekend, so I just want to neutralize a couple of those stray thoughts before we get started.

What we're talking about tonight has absolutely nothing to do with bathhouses, garbage businesses, prostitution dens or any of the other interesting comments and terms I've heard describe what I view as very legitimate business that belongs in the City of Long Beach. [applause]

I personally come from twelve years of law enforcement background [Mr. Baker worked for U.S. Customs] and I'm very concerned with where this city once was and I've heard the horror stories and seen myself what some illegitimate busiesses used to do in and around our city and indeed some of those still exist.

But tonight we're talking about a very dedicated group of small businesses people who are operating in our city, and some who would like to operate in our city but have not been able to because of some overly restrictive and burdensome regulations we have as it relates to therapeutic and medical massage in Long Beach.

Our climate here is very Long Beach than it was a few decades ago when we decided to treat massage as adult entertainment and use our vice department to regulate it. Right now the profession itself is very different. We have trained health professionals and they need to be recognized as a vital part of our business community. We now have a very thriving, high end tourist industry and our residents want these services.

The therapeutic effects of massage are well-proven and in fact, massage is often medically recommended. These small businesses, many of which are represented here tonight, and we'll hear form them in just a moment, perform much needed services in a fairly high-end market and they should be treated accordingly. Unfortunately, our over-burdensome regulations are driving the profession underground andw e are not able to properly regulate the profession.

More reasonable regulations would allow the profession to be regulated in a much better way. We have criminal prohibitions to deal with those who are violating our laws and they should be strictly enforced.

What I would like to do is encourage legitimate businesses to come into Long Beach and feel like they are welcomed here, and feel like they have a city that wants to encourage their growth for the benefit of not only our residents but the many visitors and coventioneers that we hope to keep, to draw to our city.

My request this evening is very simple, that our city manager look at this issue and talk to some of the small business owners and operators that we'll hear from, and look at the current state of the city ordinances and regulations as they relate to therapeutic massage in the city of Long Beach, find ways that we can encourage legitimate business in our city while at the same time discouraging illegitimate business in our city and report back to the City Council. And that is my motion, Madam Mayor. ...

Excerpts of industry-related speakers

(1) ...No one seems to have a set page that tells us which office we need to go when. Some of the things that we do have to deal with as massage therapists, first off, is the vice department. We are treated like prostitutes, unfortunately.

We go in. We have to submit fingerprints. We have to submit photos. And then we have to submit a background check. And then we have to submit blood work saying that we have no communicable diseases. There are no other healthcare professionals that have to do that, And one of those is an S.T.D. test.

That's all very humiliating and degrading to our profession...I have been a massage therapist for over seven years now. I recently moved to California three years ago thinking this was going to be a great, open minded place. They're really into natural healing and alternative therapies. I was treated better in the state of Louisiana, and that's pretty scarey, guys.

The cost of doing business for my office, because we are in the second district where we're located there are the additional downtown fees, for the two contractors that just joined my office to get started was $1300, before they could ever even practice in this city.

To renew our business license in this city is $641 per therapist, because the way we are regulated we are not allowed to have an establishment permit. Therefore, we have to have individual business licenses to have our individual massage permits.

The other problem we ran into was, since we are an accessory service, because of zoning and because of the way that we are treated as far as where we can practice, we have to all be accessory services. There are no free-standing massage establishments in the city of Long Beach... ...

(2)...I am a state certified instructor of massage therapy, a member of the American Massage Therapy Association and local, certified massage therapist for the last eight years. Note that I did not say licensed...

In 1994, I found a job at a Long Beach fitness center for which I had to be licensed. Becoming licensed was daunting, expensive and time consuming.

I had to apply for the license at City Hall, go to the police to be fingerprinted and photographed, see a doctor for various tests to determine if had communicable diseases, including sexually transmitted ones -- look at me I'm 61, OK, this was not that long ago -- and visit the public health doctor to sign off on the health exam.

I had to fill out a huge quantity of paperwork and get three letters of recommendation from people who had known me for at least three years. When I passed the police background check, the health department inspected my place of employment. Currently, the price for this is $329. Add the business license of $349 or more and the fee for the health exam of about $200 and the cost is a minimum of $878. Most of the licensed therapists I know have paid at least $1,000 just to do business in Long Beach.

In 1995, I founded a massage business in Seal Beach for which we had to be licensed also. A background check was required for $500. No expensive, degrading health exams, no mug shots. The business license was $116 a year as opposed to the fee in Long Beach for $349 or more per year, plus the cost of the health exam every two years.

In Seal Beach we were permitted to operate business independent of any other. In Long Beach, therapists must work in a fitness center, a spa, a salon or a doctor's office. We can operate an adult entertainment business but only in the correct zone.

As a professional massage therapist and an educator, I take umbrage at the concept that massage therapy in Long Beach is considered an adult entertainment...

There are currently 78 licensed massage therapists in Long Beach. From extensive discussions with my associates, I estimate that there are 300 or more unlicensed therapists. Long Beach wants tourists to come here. Those tourists want services including massage and so do the residents.

With fees more in alignment with therapists income and a simplified procedure for licensing, how many more massage therapists would be willing to be licensed?... ...

Councilmember Jerry Shultz

First of all I'd like to say that I think massages are OK. In fact, I think we should start every Council meeting back here with our own massage. [laughter and applause]

But, this Council did tackle this issue a couple of years ago and I recall that was what I think you [a previous speaker] referred as the chair massage, and my understanding was we passed it. Chair massage being a massage that takes place in the general public, for example, the corner of an office, here at Council chambers, anywhere in a business where it was not back in a private room with the door closed.

And that brings me to the quandry that this issue provides us, and again this is touching on the public safety issue...

...I'm sure if the chief of police got up here right now and reflected on all the vice busts they've done in the city over past years, or any chief of any city around us, or any sheriff station, they will tell you that a tremendous amount of illegal sexual activity, prostitution, goes on at places that call themselves masssage parlors.

So for us, the policy makers, how do we tell the difference [between legitimate businesses and others]? You come down here, and you're properly certified, you have all your training, and you'd like to set up in our city. How do we set up such a procedure so that we screen out those who are illegal, yet at the same time allowing you to do what you have lawfully been trained to do.

That's the little trick here, that's what we really have to address...How does vice know going into your establishment that it is really what you are supposed to be?

Well first of all, they do a thorough background check, those nasty hurdles you were talking about, they try to find out in advance if you have a history of that...If people like that [a history of being arrested, done jail time] come into this city and would like to open a massage parlor, we should know about it. The police should know about it...

I will certainly support having a look at what our current ordinance spells out for you, and how difficult it is, but that doesn't mean that when it comes back to us I will support relaxing the standards in any way unless I'm convinced that we really need to.

If we had no standards whatsoever, we would probably have massage parlors on every corner, and I can guarantee you, most of those would not be genuine therapeutic massage like you're telling us. So I will support the motion and I'm sure when it comes back, we'll hear from the police department and all those who are involved.

But this is a tough issue not just for Long Beach but other cities...They have clusters in Orange County, and they generally tend to be attracted to toutist areas, like the Anaheim corridor. Go out in Los Angeles near the airport, Manchester Blvd., and you see row upon row of these things and it's a constant problem out there for their vice.

So I hope you see both sides of this. I believe that you do have a right to engage in your craft, but we also have a need to be sure that those who come in this city to engage in your business are 100% legitimate.

Councilmember Frank Colonna

Well, if we're in an era of holistic health care, and I really think that in all fairness to the profession that we see here represented tonight, that it's time that we bring the rules and regulations into the 22nd [sic] century.

You know, I'm not sure that over-regulating solves anything. You know, we regulate liquor stores and we can't, we don't know whether we're selling alcohol to people that are minors or not. It's up to the merchandiser, the purveyor or the person who holds the license to see to that and of course we're always checking or trying to do our best to check.

But, you know, in all fairness to I think what we're trying to accomplish, I think it's long overdue that we do take a look at this. I think that it's important that we give respect to the people who want to do the kind of business the way they have learned and want to portray themselves as professionals.

And I'm certain that we can find a way to deal with the other ones that probably don't belong in the business to begin with, and they probably are the ones who in a sense wouldn't abide by the rules anyway no matter how regulated they are.

So I would look forward to getting this, coming back to us, and I would hope that Henry, when it does come back that we also could get some input from those people who are respected professionals in the industry to give us some idea of what is going on, and at the same time take a look at what other cities are doing in terms of the rules and reguations that they require.

But I think it's overdue that we give respect to this profession and I want to commend Dan for bringing it forward, and I'll support the motion.

Councilmember Ray Grabinski

...I'd just like to say that, this is probably gonna pass and it's gonna, you know, it's gonna rag on. If you have some really good ideas, put together a committee of people who'll be able to go on a regular basis, but understand the kind of comments you've heard tonight, because the guy sittin' in the front row down on the bottom left is our police chief, and if you knew the problems that we went through, or he went through and his staff, trying to separate the people who can cause trouble from the legitimate massage therapists, you wouldn't believe it...

So I want to wish you all the success in the world...and what we need to think about are those things that are the most onerous, you kow, let's deal with 'em. But don't forget that part of what we're dealing with are the people who aren't at this meeting, the ones that cause the problems.

So if you can up with some suggestions for how we can better take care of that kind of a problem, we're certainly open to it...

Mayor O'Neill

...It's obvious that everyone has a different viewpoint and, you know and I see this and I see this, and I think that probably we need enlightening just as much as anyone else, so if you have a committee, if you have suggestions, I think you need to talk with Councilmember Baker who brought it forward tonight.

Vice Mayor Baker (second time)

...I'm not asking for a short window on this. I'd really like you [the City Manager] to take the time you need to meet with representatives of the industry and with our police department as well and so that everybody's concerns are addressed with this.

And I just hope that as we move forward, everybody goes forward under the premise, the underlying premise, that these are good people who want to do business in our city as opposed to treating them at the outset as criminals that we need to weed out of the system. I think if we go in with the assumption that these are good people that we need to regulate, as opposed to the reverse, everybody'll be a little bit happier. The motion's already been made, Madam Mayor [during Baker's first comments above, reflecting his written memo, text also reproduced above]

The motion carried unanimously (9-0).

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