Some History


History of this effort
The new massage ordinance, signed December 5, 2003 by Mayor Willie Brown, comes at the end of a long process that began with the Board of Supervisors establishing a Task Force on Prostitution in March, 1994, through a resolution authored by then Supervisor (now District Attorney) Terrance Hallinan.

The Final Report of the Task Force, submitted to the Board in March 1996, contains a specific recommendation for the city to, “Remove authority for the licensing of massage parlors, masseuses and masseurs and escort services from the Vice Crime Division’s jurisdiction and place it with agencies already qualified to grant other standard business licenses.”

To implement this change, an ordinance revision was drafted by an attorney for the massage parlors that would move control of the permitting process from the Police Department to the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health.

The rationale for moving it to the DPH was primarily to primarily to create a less fearful and more supportive environment for massage parlor workers, typically non-English speaking immigrant women, and to provide them with easy access to health services. The person who has been negotiating this transition for DPH is the head of its STD Prevention and Control services, Dr. Jeffrey Klausner.

Supervisor Ammiano worked to develop the ordinance in late 1998 and introduced it to the Board of Supervisors in 1999. However, Ammiano’s proposal was never voted on by the full board because of unfortunate timing. At the moment the board was ready for the vote, the 2000 district elections put in place a nearly completely new Board of Supervisors and the proposal was shelved until Supervisor Daly decided to reintroduce the legislation early in 2003.

Involvement of the therapeutic massage community
To understand the position of the therapeutic massage community, it is necessary to acknowledge that there are two broad categories of professional massage practitioners currently working in SF.

  • Adult entertainment massage workers:
    Customers go to these practitioners seeking a certain kind of sensual arousal while receiving a massage. This arousal is similar to that provided by “adult” theaters, “encounter” rooms, “exotic dance” bars and other adult services, all of which have been ruled legal. Traditionally “massage parlors” are associated with providing adult entertainment massage. These practitioners typically have a minimum amount of training(currently 70 hours) and are often recent immigrants with limited English language skills who are using this work to gain their first financial foothold in the United States.
  • Therapeutic massage practitioners:
    Customers of these practitioners have no expectation of the kind of sensual arousal provided in the adult entertainment world. Instead, customers expect a massage service that might offer anything from simple stress relief, to relief from sports injuries, to the amelioration of specific medical conditions in clinical settings by specially trained massage therapists. These therapeutic practitioners are part of a broader movement in this country during the past twenty years toward identifying massage as part of the health care and health and fitness industries. You will find them in spas, like the Kabuki Hot Springs, in fitness centers, such as the SF Bay Club and Club One, in hair salons, in hospitals and other medical facilities, and in private practice.

It is important to note that the current massage ordinance was initially created some three decades ago to regulate adult entertainment massage and, in particular, massage parlors, which were perceived as a cover for prostitution-related crimes and as a magnet for activities (such as illegal drug dealing and usage) that degrade the quality of life in a neighborhood.

Whether these fears are founded in fact, or not (see the SF Task Force Report on Prostitution for an analysis), the point here is that the SF massage ordinance was never intended to regulate therapeutic massage and yet therapeutic practitioners have been directly affected by the ordinance.

In 1998, when the therapeutic massage community became aware of the proposed changes in the massage ordinance, an ad hoc group was created to represent their interests. This group, the SF Coalition of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Practitioners, had as its goal to create the most favorable legislative climate in SF for the practice of therapeutic massage.

Position statements of the Coalition
The members of the Coalition did not believe that therapeutic massage needed any special regulation by the City. The city does not regulate any other health and fitness professions, such as personal trainers or aerobics instructors, because the risk of harm to the general public is negligible or nonexistent. By all national reports, therapeutic massage presents virtually no risk to the public and, indeed, offers a valuable service that should be allowed to function freely in SF.

However, because current political reality deems it necessary to regulate adult entertainment massage, we supported the new ordinance for the following reasons:

  • Moving the permitting process from the Police Department to the Department of Public Health helps remove the negative onus associated with massage in general and therapeutic massage in particular. We feel that DPH is much more responsive to the needs of therapeutic practitioners than the Police Department has been.
  • We support the creation of an Advanced Massage Practitioner permit, with twice the training of General Massage Practitioners, to better define the distinction between Adult Entertainment and Therapeutic Massage Practitioners.
  • We believe that the creation of a Solo Practitioner Massage Establishment permit, which only holders of the Advanced Massage Practitioner permit could obtain, makes it easier for therapeutic massage practitioners to operate a private practice.

Why didn’t we try to eliminate the ordinance altogether or create one very high standard (like 500 hours of training)?
In a word, “politics.” The representatives of the adult entertainment industry, who initiated this new ordinance, are very sincere in their desire to make massage parlors safe and profitable for the women who work in them. Most SF elected officials have no desire to wipe out the massage parlors so, the net result, is that therapeutic practitioners have to coexist, for the time being, with adult entertainment practitioners. We have come to the best compromise that we believe possible at this time.

It should also be noted, however, that there is a bill currently working its way through the California legislature, SB1388, that, if passed, would eliminate all professional regulation of massage practitioners in SF and every other local government in California. If you are interested in working on that effort, check out The Coalition for California State Massage Licensing.

If you want to be kept informed of the process of developing regulations for the new ordinance between now and June 5th, 2004 join our email list.