Massage practitioners in Millbrae may no longer have to attain multiple government certifications, if the City Council votes to update its massage ordinance later this month.
Massage therapists currently must get a state certificate and a city permit, because Millbrae has yet to update its code to align with the more recently established state licensing requirements.
In 2009, the passage of Senate Bill 731 mandated that practitioners obtain state certificate from the California Massage Therapy Council.
Meanwhile, Millbrae’s massage ordinance, which was last amended in 2002, still requires each massage therapist to get a permit from the police department.
The massage therapists must deal with dual permits, and both the state and the city of Millbrae are charged with running background checks on them.
But the City Council introduced an amendment Tuesday that would update the city’s Bathing and Massage Ordinance to reflect state law, making the California Massage Therapy Council the sole entity charged with issuing licenses and conducting the background checks of the practitioners.
City officials say the state laws and system of background checks have proven to be more effective than the city’s outdated ordinance.
The state law clearly defines what the businesses should be doing, said Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan.
Finding an appropriate legal approach to massage parlors is important to the city because the businesses can sometimes be used as fronts for prostitution.
“Every city walks a fine line in that massages — personally, I like them — but the businesses themselves can be a cover for illegal activity,” said Papan.
Running background checks at the state level instead of at the municipal level ensures illegitimate practitioners are not hopping from city to city, she said.
“It will give us another resource if an individual comes in and has less-than-legal activities in mind,” she said.
The city waited several years after the passage of the state law before considering updating city code because it wanted to see if there would be any subsequent changes to the legislation, said Ed Barberini, chief of police services for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Millbrae Bureau. Now, he said, the city is confident that the state has established strong, lasting legislation.
“We think the timing is right,” said Barberini. “We believe that this [current amendment] will be consistent with state level in the future.”
The proposed change to Millbrae’s massage ordinance would not provide any new investigative tool to law enforcement, but would update the city’s code to reflect the state statute, he said.
“Our enforcement regarding illegal activities doesn’t change,” he said.
To obtain a state certification from the California Massage Therapy Council, practitioners must submit an application, transcripts from approved massage schools, go through a background check and pay $150 fee. Practitioners must get recertified every two years.
The current Millbrae application process requires submitting a detailed work history and going through a background check annually with the police department.
The City Council will vote on the amendment to the massage ordinance at its July 23 meeting. If the city approves the amendment, massage business establishments would still be required to register with the city.