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Rohnert Park considers moratorium on new massage businesses

Rohnert Park leaders are set to consider a proposed new law that would place a 45-day moratorium on new massage businesses that employ practitioners not certified by the state.

The City Council, bracing for the opening later this year of the Graton Resort & Casino, and foreseeing unintended consequences including a boom in businesses serving patrons drawn toward vice and potentially self-destructive behaviors, is to take up the proposal Tuesday night and seems inclined to approve it.

In July, it leveled a similar emergency moratorium on new pawn shops, adult entertainment enterprises, check-cashing shops, cyber-cafes and electronic billboards. Tuesday, the council is also to consider extending that ban from 45 days to two years.

But unlike the blanket ban applied to those businesses, city staff, in their report to the council, have distinguished between which massage establishments would be allowed and which wouldn't.

The moratorium would only apply to massage businesses employing masseuses not certified by the state — though existing massage businesses would be allowed to continue operating. Going forward, only new businesses whose practitioners are all certified by the state would be granted permits.

Legitimate massage therapists have long been bedeviled by misperceptions that blur their profession with prostitution and sex work, and have endorsed methods of officially drawing a clear distinction.

“I would personally endorse for any reason banning non-certified massage therapists,” said Jeannie Martin of Petaluma, a massage therapist with a Novato practice.

“This is basically a way of protecting the client so when you go to get massage therapy you have an indication of who you are getting,” said Martin, president of the Redwood Empire Unit of the American Massage Therapy Association.

“You know the training, you know the background has been checked, if there's any possibility of a conviction through vice, they can't qualify,” she said.

At first, the city eyed a moratorium on any new massage businesses, said Ahmos Netanel, CEO of the California Massage Therapy Council, the state-chartered agency that issues masseuse certifications.

But that would be illegal unless it applied also to all other busineses providing state-licensed professional services in the city — accountants and barbers, for example, said Netanel.

“So they changed it to only apply to establishments that do not use exclusively certified professionals,” he said. “Now there is no conflict.

The city consulted with the agency on the ordinance, but the agency takes no position on the ordinance, Netanel said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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