By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Massage therapists working in Cotati will soon have to be licensed by the state and wear opaque clothing to meet regulations intended to restrict what city officials say are prostitution parlors.
Property owners also will be subject to criminal penalties if massage parlors are found to be operating illegally in their buildings, under the ordinance approved by the City Council on Wednesday.
Council members did not discuss the ordinance, which was first introduced at the June meeting. But opponents and supporters expressed their viewpoints.
“It basically says all massage therapists are prostitutes,” said Bill Dresbach, owner of Massage Inc., in Cotati.
He said it would be burdensome financially and that “there should be enough laws on the books (already) to take care of this problem.”
Bernadette Murray, a Woodland massage therapist who previously spoke in favor of the ordinance and said it has support among other therapists in Cotati, said the price of getting licensed was worth the legitimacy it confers.
“It’s very low cost in terms of cost benefit analysis,” she said.
City staff first raised the issue last months, saying that several massage businesses in the city of 7,500 are actually fronts for prostitution and that some of the women likely were victims of human trafficking. They cited police investigations and citizen complaints in making a case for the ordinance.
It costs about $240 for a massage therapist to get certified by the state for two years. The process includes verification of a therapist’s training and a federal background check.
An attempt to pass a similar ordinance in 1990 was defeated partly due to concerns over the cost, then about $1,200.
Since then, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cloverdale, Healdsburg and Windsor have adopted some form of regulation governing massage businesses. The lack of regulation in Cotati has made the city more attractive to those operating illicit parlors, city staff said.
Among conditions of the ordinance:
Locking massage room doors would be prohibited unless no other employees are on hand to assure privacy. Also prohibited on the premises would be waterbeds, beds or floor mattresses.
Massage therapists must wear clothing that does not expose the midriff or undergarments.
The ordinance takes effect in 30 days.