PLEASANT HILL -- A divided City Council on Monday approved regulations for massage therapists designed to streamline the certification process and deter illegal activity.
Beginning Jan. 1, only massage therapists and practitioners certified by the California Massage Therapy Council can work in Pleasant Hill. Councilmen David Durant and Jack Weir voted no.
Currently, massage therapists and practitioners who have a city-issued permit or state certification can work in Pleasant Hill. Applicants for the city permit must pass a criminal-background check and provide proof of training, certification from a national therapeutic massage organization or membership in a professional massage association.
Massage therapists who hold a city permit may continue working in Pleasant Hill through the end of the year.
Durant said the new rules would put his massage therapist out of business because she's in her 70s and won't go back to school. He called for delaying implementation of the new rules and for allowing therapists to choose state or city certification.
Police Chief Pete Dunbar said a single, state-issued permit would provide structure and consistency.
"It makes it clearer for the therapist, the (massage) establishment and us," he said.
Massage therapists at the meeting applauded the rules because the council's standards are stringent and state-certified massage professionals can practice anywhere without paying for
The Legislature created the California Massage Therapy Council, a private nonprofit organization, in 2008 as part of a law that established statewide standards for massage professionals.
To earn state certification, applicants must provide proof of training -- 500 hours for massage therapists and 250 hours for practitioners -- and pass a rigorous criminal background check through the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. The fee is $150 and the certification is valid for two years. Since 2009, the Massage Therapy Council has certified 31,000 massage professionals, according to Ahmos Netanel, chief executive officer of the council.
Police say allegations that the former commander of the Central Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team and a Concord private investigator ran a brothel out of a Pleasant Hill massage business did not play any role in the decision to craft new regulations. Still, they acknowledge that prostitution is an issue here.
Weir said the ordinance is the wrong approach.
"I'm very troubled by this proposal," he said. "There seems to be a notion that the massage profession is associated with prostitution and other criminal acts."
Weir said the ordinance tries to solve the prostitution problem by placing additional burdens on massage professionals. He also took a swipe at the state, saying the city would do a better job managing the certification process.
"The regulation of a profession is certainly much better at the state level than at the local level," Councilman Michael Harris said. "I view this as having a higher standard of care for the (clients)."
Under the new rules, owners must register their massage business annually with the Police Department and keep a list of the certified therapists and practitioners who work there. Owners also would have to keep a daily log of each client, the therapist who treated them and the services performed.
Other than police officers, who could inspect the logs as part of a criminal investigation or ordinance compliance check, the log would be confidential.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.