Driving down Eagle Rock Blvd. in Los Angeles, between homes and businesses, there is the dim glow of signs advertising massages. Over the past few years, the massage therapy industry has seen a boom. In some cities, these meccas for relaxation have turned into fronts for prostitution and human trafficking. But, on first blush, it is not easy to separate the legitimate from the "bad actors."
Under current law, the California Massage Therapy Council (CMTC), created as a nonprofit in 2009, regulates the industry statewide. From licensing to capping the number of parlors in a city, the CMTC has all the power. In an effort to better regulate the industry, many community members, city leaders, and even industry members have voiced support for a state bill that would return related land use control to cities and counties.
"The most important message out of this is that they have the control. The cities have the ability go after the nuisance operators and separate out the legitimate business," says Assembly Member Holden, who co-authored the bill, AB 1147, with Assemblymembers Susan Bonilla and Jimmy Gomez. "They can tackle the problem without looking to the state, but working in concert with the state."
The bill will also give local governments a presence on the Massage Therapy Council board of directors with the League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, and California Police Chiefs Association all having a dedicated seat, according to a bill summary.
The summary also describes the built-in regulations increasing the professional standards and continuing to impose a 500-hour education requirement for all therapists before receiving a CMTC license.
If the bill passes, the earliest it could be implemented is next year after the current law sunsets. Until then, the old way of running things continue.
Last year, a "Socal Connected" investigation looked at the Los Angeles neighborhood of Eagle Rock and the city of Huntington Beach and what community members and law enforcement were doing to deal with the problem.
A little more than a year later, there are about 22 suspicious massage parlors in Eagle Rock, two fewer than last year, according to the LAPD. In Huntington Beach there are about 74 massage parlors, which is nine more since our last report.
"Business is still booming," says Eagle Rock resident Michael Nogueria, who has a business next to the Rose Garden Spa. Since the "Socal Connected" report last year, the Rose Garden Spa was busted for prostitution in April by the LAPD Northeast Division Vice.