South Lake Tahoe massage regulations tightened
South Lake Tahoe city council pushed forward a police-driven initiative last week to amend city code responsible for the regulation of massage therapists and establishments in the community. Police Chief Brian Uhler said increased oversight is necessary to address issues of prostitution and unlicensed work in the industry.
Uhler presented a staff report outlining the changes at the July 19 council meeting.
“The code being presented to South Lake Tahoe City Council is modeled after ‘best practices’ in several other cities in California,” according to the report. “It requires massage therapists operating in South Lake Tahoe to be certified by CAMTC [California Massage Therapy Council]. Further, it addresses the human trafficking element by requiring names, photos, and verifiable proof of certification through the state. The proposed code requires a registry of dates, times and services rendered by the therapists.”
The report points to 2008 state legislation that created CAMTC and allowed the massage therapy industry to oversee its own regulation while the state regulated the industry as it would doctors or accountants. With local control repealed, the number of massage businesses rapidly grew in South Lake Tahoe. To date, Uhler estimated there are 125.
State legislation passed in 2015 once again allowed for local regulation of the massage industry and brought about minimum training standards.
“The issue that seems to be most problematic in our community is the storefront operations. We will develop a program where we go out with both undercover officers as well as uniformed personnel to verify compliance,” Uhler expressed to council.
Ninety days after the Aug. 2 city council meeting, when the amended code is expected to pass a second reading, all massage establishments in South Lake Tahoe will be required to apply for a massage license with the city and all therapists must possess a CAMTC certificate. Other operational and health requirements aim to stop illicit sex acts, including appropriate body coverage during a massage and set operating hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“There is a perception out there that certain kinds of places will provide massages that are beyond the true medical or therapy-related kind of massage,” said Uhler, who confirmed that there is evidence that human trafficking, either for sex or labor, occurs in massage parlors in South Lake Tahoe.
“We’ve learned that there are female employees of these businesses that go from Southern California to Sacramento through Tahoe to Reno to Las Vegas back to Southern California, following this circuit,” explained Uhler. “The reason that they are moving people so quickly that do the work is because when undercovers come in and do work and catch people, the person that you’re looking for is long gone.”
Teresa Bertrand, owner of BioSpirit Day Spa in South Lake Tahoe, addressed council in support of the new measures.
“I know that I can speak for a few business owners that we definitely welcome local regulation that includes direct oversight,” Bertrand said. “We feel that this will bring legitimacy to our profession and respect to our industry, but also to our town, because we have people from out of town think that it’s a laughing matter and it’s very disturbing to us.”
Cindy Archer, a representative of Partners Against Trafficking Humans (PATH), also spoke up in support of increased oversight of the massage industry.
“We have been in support all the way along of the tightening of these ordinances because we’ve been approached by people in the community about what they see going on with the increase in storefront massage businesses,” expressed Archer.
“We see arrests happening here and there, but there is no one entity for tracking those statistics,” added Archer in reference to crimes related to human trafficking. “That is something that our group will be making changes with.”
Existing police resources will absorb enforcement of the new code regulating the industry.