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Petaluma adopts law requiring licenses for massage therapists

The Petaluma City Council on Monday night tentatively approved an ordinance that requires licensing for massage therapists and allows police to inspect their facilities.

But gone are most of the regulations that legitimate massage professionals found offensive or burdensome in previous two iterations of the ordinance, in December and February.

When police Chief Pat Williams proposed the ordinance last year, it caused an uproar among massage practitioners, who felt like they were being lumped in with prostitutes - the primary target of the law.

Police have occasionally busted pimps and prostitutes masquerading as legitimate businesses. Without such an ordinance, police say it's difficult to catch lawbreakers.

Several massage providers who spoke Monday agreed with the concept of differentiating legitimate businesses from shady ones, but felt the first attempts at writing a new law were ham-handed and ill-informed.

“This is so much better,” Councilwoman Teresa Barrett said, adding that legitimate practitioners don't need to fear inspections. “I think other people need to worry about that.”

The new ordinance, set to be formally approved Sept. 9, requires massage professionals to be certified by the California Massage Therapy Council or obtain a city permit by proving, among other criteria, that they have been continuously providing massage in Petaluma since January 2010.

It provides the city with inspection rights to ensure compliance with the law, an omission police said hampered efforts to investigate possible illegal activity.

It also requires the posting of the cost of services, prohibits the use of alcohol or drugs on premises and limits hours to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

It also requires “outcall” services, where a massage is done at a client's location, be limited to those who have state certification.

Massage therapists initially opposed the state certification requirement, noting that many of them have been professionals for decades, often before there were massage schools.

They argued it would be expensive and time-consuming for them to complete the certification in order to continue working.

Massage therapist Stacey DeGooyer said the new ordinance will discourage illicit activity and elevate therapeutic massage professionals because of the educational requirements.

The new ordinance would issue a local permit for those who can document they have been providing massage in Petaluma since 2010, have 100 hours of formal education at an approved massage school and complete a fingerprint scan and permit application, which includes a criminal history.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com

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