South Lake Tahoe police and city attorney Tom Watson will craft new regulations surrounding massage businesses in South Lake Tahoe in coming weeks.
The South Lake Tahoe City Council directed Police Chief Brian Uhler and Watson to draft a new ordinance after hearing a presentation by detective Jeff Roberson and receiving public comment from several people in the massage industry at council’s Tuesday meeting. The proposed rules will come before the South Lake Tahoe City Council for possible approval at a future meeting.
Tahoe’s South Shore has seen a rise in the number of massage businesses in the past several years. Shifting state rules, as well as fluctuating law enforcement funding, have made for inconsistent policing surrounding massage businesses across California, Roberson said. He acknowledged the many legitimate massage practitioners in the state and said his presentation is focused on businesses using massage as a front to conduct illegal activity in California, rather than legitimate massage therapy businesses.
Human trafficking for labor and sex are among the main concerns for law enforcement when it comes to massage businesses, Roberson said.
“The elephant in the room is prostitution — let’s just say it,” Roberson told the council.
The city’s existing code in regard to massage businesses is “totally weak” and doesn’t provide necessary enforcement mechanisms, Roberson said. He called for city council to approve “light-to-moderate” regulations surrounding massage businesses, saying he understood that heavy-handed regulation can kill business.
Several massage therapists in South Lake Tahoe said they were concerned with the recent proliferation of massage businesses in South Lake Tahoe and encouraged the council to adopt more stringent regulations when it comes to the industry.
“I am concerned about the reputation of our community and the massage industry in South Lake Tahoe and the state of California,” Teresa Bertrand, the owner of BioSpirit Day Spa, told the council.
Many of the massage businesses to open most recently in South Lake Tahoe bill themselves as offering Asian massage. In a January letter to the council, the owners of several of the businesses urged the city to consider changing its policies regarding the issuing of new storefront massage business licenses. The letter cites concerns about the increased number of massage businesses impacting existing outlets and the possibility of illegal activity.
“We, who have legitimate Asian massage businesses in the city, are concerned that allowing a higher number of Asian massage businesses in South Lake Tahoe could cause non-professional illegal services to be performed in the additional new businesses trying to get started, by allowing masseuses who do not have enough customers to receive much higher tips for additional illegal services,” according to the letter. “This clearly would rapidly affect indirectly, but in a very negative way, our business image and our ability to continue to attract legitimate customers.”
When the new regulations will be back before the city council for consideration is unknown.