City to consider massage ordinance

The Petaluma Police Department has taken another stab at a new ordinance regulating massage therapy, releasing its third draft of the law meant to combat illegitimate prostitution establishments that operate under the guise of massage therapy last week.

Earlier versions of the ordinance met with strong resistance from local massage therapists, many of whom called previous language and requirements contained in the law unfair. Petaluma Police Lt. Dave Sears said he believes this latest draft of the ordinance addresses many of the concerns of local massage therapists, though he admitted that it's a work in progress.

"Anytime you're dealing with public policy change, you're going to face challenges," said Sears. "I think we have something this time that meets a majority of the needs of the largest group of people affected. We're not always able to make everyone happy, but I think that we've come closer this time."

One of the biggest changes to the ordinance is the addition of a grandfather clause that allows massage therapists who have received training from a certified massage school and have been operating for five or more years to forego certification and training from the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC) certification — a nonprofit state board that offers a voluntary certification program.

"We will have a small group of people that will be grandfathered in under our permitting process," said Sears. "These are long-term practitioners that went to school a long time ago, and for whom it would just be too much of a financial burden on their livelihood to get recertified."

Sears explained that most of these massage therapists were certified by schools that have since closed, and said that forcing them to close their business and pay for new schooling would be unfair.

Petaluma massage therapist Debbie Fisher has attended every police department public outreach meeting since hearing about the ordinance, and says she feels much better about this version.

"There's still some language issues with the current draft, but it's better," said Fisher. "The biggest issue is protecting our clients from getting their privacy bothered during a massage. I understand the police need as much leverage as they can to fight prostitution, but our first priority is our clients."

Fisher, who has been practicing in Petaluma for more than 20 years and is certified by the CAMTC, said every client she has spoken to is uncomfortable with the idea of the police department, the health department or any other entity performing random inspections during their treatment — something the ordinance allows in an effort to combat massage establishments that offer prostitution as well as massage. When asked what would be the ideal solution from her standpoint, Fisher said she didn't know.

"If I had a really good solution, I'd be bringing it up," she said. "It's a can of worms to regulate things like this and it's very difficult to please everyone. But I also know that ordinances have been starting up in several cities and it's just the way things are being done at this point."

Police Chief Patrick Williams is scheduled to present the new ordinance to the City Council at the July 1 meeting. To view a copy of the proposed ordinance, visit http://cityofpetaluma.net/police/pdf/MassageOrdinanceDraft.pdf