The Santa Maria City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance to govern massage businesses in the city Tuesday night.
The council’s vote creates a new framework of rules that dictate how massage businesses are certified and how they can operate within city limits.
“The legitimate massage therapists will continue to operate, and this will expose some of the businesses that could be a front for some illicit operations,” City Manager Rick Haydon said following Tuesday's vote at City Hall.
By its action, the council approved the first reading of a new ordinance that will update the city’s current municipal code. The measure will come back before the council at its next session as part of its consent agenda, where it is expected to receive final approval. After that step, the new law will go into effect mid-December and govern the 73 massage businesses that currently operate in the city.
The new law will require, among other things, that all massage practitioners in Santa Maria either be licensed by the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC) or have a new valid city-issued business license before the effective date of the ordinance; all new and existing massage businesses have a city certification; and all businesses be regularly inspected by Santa Maria Police or city officials.
The new rules work toward the city's goal of reducing human trafficking with its certification requirements.
If, when inspected, a business does not have certified practitioners on its employee rolls, the business will be shut down. Businesses also will be limited to hours of operation between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. An employee dress code must be in effect, and customers must be covered. Massage ventures will be disallowed from covering their windows and restricted from advertising their services.
The council also approved zoning changes that will create more opportunities for legitimate massage businesses by allowing them to do business in other parts of the city.
Until recently, city leaders were unable to make any changes to laws that govern massage businesses due to limits set by state law.
Haydon said changes to those laws, a concern about the potential for human trafficking and an outcry of complaints moved city officials to rewrite the massage business rules.
"We are here to listen, (and) we have listened," Haydon said, explaining council members have been sent to conferences and seminars where they heard what is happening in other cities.
The ordinance, approved on Tuesday night, is similar to massage business rules in the city of San Mateo. Ordinance writers used that ordinance as a guide and information taken from a series of meetings with local massage business operators to draft the rules approved Tuesday night.