Brisbane approves regulations on massage businesses

Brisbane city leaders have passed a new ordinance that will for the first time regulate massage businesses in the city.

Under the new law, approved by the City Council in a 4-1 vote, all massage therapists and practitioners in Brisbane will now have to be state-certified, register with local police, and adhere to certain sanitary and operating requirements.

According to Police Chief Lisa Macias, Brisbane was one of the only cities in San Mateo County that did not have regulations in place for massage parlors and similar businesses. City officials say the new regulations and enforcement will help ensure that Brisbane doesn’t become a destination for illicit activity, such as sex trafficking and prostitution, as nearby municipalities have also cracked down on massage establishments.

“We were finding that in San Mateo County, many of the massage parlors that were having criminal activity were closing or being shut down and were opening up in neighboring cities,” said Macias, when she presented the impetus for the ordinance last month. “At this point, we find ourselves vulnerable to having these establishments coming into our community because we don’t have an ordinance in place.”

All massage therapists and practitioners in the city, whether sole proprietors or employees, will now need to receive a previously voluntary certificate from the California Massage Therapy Council, which requires at least 250 hours of massage education in addition to a background check and fingerprint scan.

The ordinance also establishes a revocable registration system for the city, meaning that all businesses and individuals must apply for a certificate of registration with the Brisbane police and can lose permission to operate if they run afoul of local laws.

Operating guidelines also explicitly ban employees from wearing transparent or risque clothing and from touching customers’ sexual or genital body parts. Supporters of the new regulations say they are designed to protect both legitimate massage parlors and consumers, who deserve assurance that they will be served professionally. The lone dissenting vote came from Councilwoman Terry O’Connell, who called the ordinance “overkill.”

“I believe it’s over-legislating or creating more bureaucracy for a problem that I don’t see exists here,” O’Connell said. “I just don’t quite understand why we’re going to the lengths to spell out what can be touched and what can’t be touched to this length where it’s almost unenforceable. And it’s a personal privacy issue for me.”

Fees for the new certificate have yet to be determined and the one existing massage business in Brisbane will be given a grace period to come into compliance.

A long list of professionals who may be called upon to perform basic massage work in the course of their regular duties are exempt from the new regulations, including doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists and athletic trainers.

Licensed barbers, cosmetologists and manicurists will also be unaffected as long as they don’t venture below the shoulders or above the calf.

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