By Ted AYALA
Massage businesses working within the City of Glendale will be coming under tightening regulations in the near future if a proposed ordinance that Glendale City Council discussed Tuesday night is enacted.
The ordinance would allow the city to impose regulations on massage business owners who aren’t certified by the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), but own at least 5% of their business.
Drafting the ordinance has been tricky for the city as it needs to ensure that its ordinance is legal under state law.
In 2009, the California Legislature passed SB 731 that saw the creation of the CAMTC and of a certification process for practitioners, therapists and business owners. Statewide rules were also enacted that protected the rights of massage businesses to operate anywhere in the state. Among the rights SB 731 granted to massage practitioners (CMPs), therapists (CMTs), and business owners certified by the CAMTC was the right to practice their trade in any county or city in the state. They are also not required to obtain any other permits, certifications or authorizations in order to conduct business.
SB 731 also required counties and cities to treat massage businesses as they would any other professional services business such as legal firms, banks and medical offices. In other words, cities cannot apply zoning restrictions to massage businesses that they wouldn’t apply to other professional service businesses.
Applicants seeking CAMTC certification as a massage practitioner must complete 250 hours of training and education; certification as a massage therapist requires 500 hours. They also meet must allow their employment history to be checked, submit their fingerprints to the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), and meet a minimum age requirement of 18 years.
According to the CAMTC, SB 731 has allowed consumers to easily identify credible CMTs and CMPs and increase their education and training standards to a level consistent with other states.
In 2011, city passed an ordinance requiring CAMTC certified massage practitioners and therapists to show the city proof of their credentials, as well as register with the city. They must also re-register with the city every two years.
City Manager Scott Ochoa in his remarks prefacing the introduction of the proposal said that the ordinance would address some of the concerns voiced by the City Council, especially those of Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan, who has been pressing for tougher enforcement of massage businesses.
“[The ordinance] specifically would make sure that local control had been adjusted under the state law,” he said. “There were still ways to have a level playing field and to respect what the law was intending to do.”
He added that the CAMTC had been “extremely supportive and cooperative” with city staff during the process of drafting the proposed ordinance.
“The idea is to maintain that level playing field [with other professional service businesses], but to [also] raise that playing field to make sure that we’re establishing a level of enforcement that would recognize the positive actors out there in the business environment,” he said.
City Atty. Michael J. Garcia said that the proposed ordinance would be supplementing what the state requires, but also “go well beyond it, while within it.”
Principal Asst. City Atty. Michael R. Grant in his presentation said that the ordinance targeting owners who own 5% or more of their massage business and which are not certified by the CAMTC would be obligated to apply for a massage owner certificate in order to continue operation.
The ordinance would also require all CMPs and CMTs working in the city to be CAMTC certified and for massage businesses to only employ certified individuals.
The proposed ordinance would require a non-CAMTC certified owner or operator of a massage business where they own more than 5% apply every year for a massage owner certificate, provide employment history and background information, undergo a background check, and pay a $521 application investigation fee.
The application process, according to city staff, will be the same as those for a special entertainment business permit.
The ordinance will also empower the city to deny the initial issuance or renewal of a Massage Establishment Owner Certificate based on enumerated criteria, such as prior convictions on certain criminal offenses. Enforcement tools open to the city would include the revocations of the certificates and the issuance of fines, which can range from $400 to $2,000.
The ordinance also works in tandem with a zoning code amendment that would require businesses to keep at least 75% of their window area visible, install clear, non-reflective windows, and prohibit the blocking of windows with drapes, blinds or shelving.
CEO of the CAMTC Ahmos Nehtenel spoke in favor of the ordinance, reaffirming his organization’s dedication to working with local governments.
“Your mission is our mission,” he said in reference to the proposed ordinance. “CAMTC has always supported local government to …control illegal massage services. We believe this ordinance … will empower the city and remove any ambiguity pertaining to the city’s control of said establishments.”
Councilmember Ara Najarian expressed support for the ordinance, though he did voice concern about how it would affect professional service businesses along Brand Boulevard as a whole.
“Bank of America has drapes, Charles Schwab has blinds, Hollywood Productions Center also has blinds,” he said. “I don’t want to go too far down this road because it’s going to be difficult to enforce this.”
Garcia said that Najarian’s concerns were valid, but that there was still time to amend the proposal and that city staff would be conducting further study on how to improve it.
Sinanyan said that enforcement of visibility standards would be “crucial” in this ordinance.
“We have well established massage parlors in Glendale,” he said. “None of them are objecting to this [proposal].”