Oakdale massage shops facing stricter standards

OAKDALE -- Sometimes adding a little pressure can relieve a lot of tension.

Police and massage therapists hope applying that logic to massage establishments citywide will help authorities root out brothels operating under the guise of massage businesses. Police want to end illegal behavior, and legitimate businesses want to squelch the sort of crime that gives massage a bad reputation.

Council members moved Tuesday to strengthen city standards for places that offer massage. Changes include:

Increasing the minimum hours of massage education to 250, which is double the state minimum Requiring that appointments start between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Allowing police to conduct random inspections without warrants

Requiring owners of new establishments to pay $1,500 for a license to operate in Oakdale. New therapists will have to pay $300. The fee would be waived for established businesses, but they must apply for a license by Oct. 16.

The council considered a similar ordinance in June but asked police to redraft it with therapists' input. At the time, therapists said they supported stronger standards, but they took issue with certain aspects of the ordinance, such as regulating therapists' hours of operation.

Heather Williams, the only therapist to comment on the revised ordinance at Tuesday night's council meeting, said police welcomed and used therapists' input, which helped them draft regulations that should please legitimate establishments.

Holistic health specialist Nita Roberts said she figures stricter regulations will ensure that clients receive quality care in Oakdale. "My concern was that people be licensed. They didn't used to ask for proof of a massage license here before giving out a business license to give massage," Roberts said. "If people go to an unlicensed place, they're going to have a bad massage. And that will turn them off massage altogether."

Pam Madonna of Pam's Day Spa said she never has had a client confuse one of her therapists for a prostitute, but she's happy to help police get rid of imposters. "It will help keep our town clean and undesirables out," she said.

Two questionable massage parlors in town prompted police to consider implementing rules that would help crack down on places that offer more than massage.

Police might have done an undercover operation if police interest in closing the suspected brothels wasn't so public, Chief Marty West said. Instead, police opted to work with council members to establish rules with which charlatans would find it hard to comply.

"And guess where we're going to inspect first," West said.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.