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Posted on Jan 14, 2015 in Human Trafficking | 1 comment

Massage Parlor Update

The City Council started off 2015 by unanimously adopting a 45-day moratorium on new massage establishments. As background, massage businesses have proliferated in San Rafael. There are over 50 just in the downtown area. [See map that was distributed at the January 5 meting] Under a new State law, effective January 1, cities can now adopt local zoning and business licensing rules that specifically address massage parlors.

San Rafael City staff wasted no time. The staff recommended the temporary moratorium to give them time to study the number and location of massage businesses, research alternative land use regulations and their potential impact, and make recommendations to the City Council for any changes to our zoning and other regulations governing massage businesses. The challenge, of course, will be to develop new zoning rules that minimize the impact on legitimate practitioners but maximize the impact on illicit operators.

The staff said that they would seek community input. We do not need 50 massage businesses in downtown San Rafael. We need a diversity of businesses to keep our downtown vibrant, safe and economically successful. Share your opinion with Paul Jensen, Community Development Director, through the City’s email link.

You can view the staff report discussion and the download the ordinance here.

1 Comment

  1. There are a number of points the update makes which need clarification. Let’s start from the top, where it says massage businesses have proliferated in San Rafael.

    There’s no note as to what constitutes massage. There’s no note given of how many home massage businesses there are, nor of traveling massage therapists. This would increase the number cited.

    The claim by the update is that there are over 50 massage businesses just in the downtown area. Do a search for dentists in downtown San Rafael. There’s at least 70, perhaps 100.

    As to massage outlets, there may be 60. And several outlets sublet. And not all outlets do massage—some are advanced hands-on bodyworkers. Some, like me, don’t use oil.

    And there are many who fly under the radar—that is, they have no license and no certification from the state, and have had none for years.

    The old law has already adversely impacted legitimate practitioners, so to declare that the challenge is to develop new zoning rules which minimize the impact on “legitimate” practitioners is rather feckless.

    And illicit might not mean sex is sold. It might mean mislabeled or unlabeled bottles. It might mean an unsanitary wash area. It might mean inappropriate clothing, but a form-fitting track suit can be stripped off very easily. A table may not be the correct height (although to presume that table height would inhibit sexual interaction might be far-fetched). It could mean that someone lives at the outlet. It could mean that bottles of douche were found, or that some of the practitioners didn’t have certification from the state, or that the Cal state certification listed Texas as a home address.

    Stating that “we do not need 50 massage businesses in downtown San Rafael” misunderstands the varied kinds of bodywork which are out there. Some chiropractors do massage. Cranial osteopathy involves a kind of very light touching—both can be done without the removal of clothes.

    Saying we do not need 50 massage businesses downtown trashes legitimate massage business—we don’t need you here, you are saying to them. Why don’t you tell that to the 80 or so dentists downtown?

    Claiming that a diversity of businesses keeps a downtown vibrant, safe and economically successful is not entirely correct—what’s needed are anchor stores which make going to downtown an event, with strategically placed outlets nearby within walking distance. Why can’t Mill Valley Massage on C street be considered an anchor store? Why not BodyWise on 4th and E? Certainly Massage Envy in Montecito can be considered an anchor store—it’s right next to a bank, and men go in and out of there all day.

    Again, search for dentists. Talk about a cavity waiting to be filled….

    And to intimate that too many massage businesses make a downtown unsafe is an unsubstantiated claim, if not outrageous. Walk through town withOUT the map provided, and see how many of the 50 massage outlets you can find. It’ll take you the better part of the day, and you will miss most of the outlets, and you will find many more legitimate outlets than not, and you will be safe. In fact, of the 50 outlets, there’s only about 15 or 20 “illicit” outlets. And quotes are used because some of the presumed illicit outlets don’t offer extra services.

    Almost dentists inflict pain and give you drugs, but a happy ending massage is painless and drug-free.

    Here’s what’s totally unfair—to place this post under the rubric of human trafficking is exactly what the legitimate massage folks find distressing: that to be touched for pay has been made morally or legally wrong.

    This post also makes the egregious error of conflating human trafficking with pimping—they are two entirely different activities. The first means people are brought across international borders, their passports are taken away under false pretenses, and they may sign contracts under duress and their families threatened back home. Moreover, individuals trapped in this horrifying situation are, as the term signifies, sold and resold.

    But pimping is where and individual sells sex but gives to another individual a portion of their earnings. This is the most visible part of the sex industry because it is presumed that streetwalkers have pimps. And yet, this portion of the industry is also the smallest part.

    There are any number of writers and researchers who will back up these facts. One study of teenage sex workers revealed that half of them were young men. Several reports found that women make up 35 to 40% of the traffickers.

    But most stunning was that 90% of the sex workers did not have pimps—that is, they were out there on their own.

    That fact is reflective of the nature of sex work in older demographics. And, contrary to the anti-trafficking nonprofit sales points, most workers who are women want to be in the business. It can be lucrative, allow for great amounts of leisure time, and there’s no glass ceiling to break through.

    Lastly, it’s time for our American society to get straight about sex. In any restaurant or bar or any other public place, any two people can leave together and go find a place to be sexually intimate. But as soon as cash is exchanged, it’s illegal, even though the interaction just described could characterize a dinner date. By contrast, if that encounter is filmed and placed on the internet, it’s legal. Again, here are the facts: of the 50 (or 60) massage outlets in downtown San Rafael, there’s only about 15 or 20 of them which are “illicit” outlets proffering extra services.

    One only needs to turn them down.

    It is this set of complexities which should be addressed. I would hope that those who are San Rafaelians engage in such fun-loving activities. It’s very healthy.

    Jonathan Frieman

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