Illegal massage parlors have been a real pain in the neck for San Francisco officials, who have continually sought to find and shut them down. Katy Tang, the supervisor of District 4, has a new and logical approach that aims to improve city enforcement — and the real question is why is this only now being tried?
San Francisco's big push to edge out illicit massage businesses started in 2006 under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. By 2009, The City created an extensive permitting process and mandated that the establishments close by 10 p.m. nightly. Still, the problem persisted.
Newsom in 2010 called the problem a "bit of a whack-a-mole," saying that shuttered establishments would merely reopen in the same location under a different name.
Though most massage parlors in The City are regulated and operate according to the law, others are still fronts for brothels. The worst have been found to be using women who have been victims of human trafficking.
Tang — whose district includes the Sunset, where illegal massage parlors have proliferated — introduced legislation at last week's Board of Supervisors meeting that would strengthen health code penalties, which currently are just recommendations. Though The City is limited in the regulations it can implement because of a 2008 state law, Tang says The City can take such measures as requiring masseuses to wear photo identification and banning sexual activity and the consumption of alcohol and nonprescription drugs on a business' premises.
There should be concern about potentially harming law-abiding businesses and putting victims of human trafficking in harm's way, but Tang noted that she was aware of these scenarios and was careful in crafting the legislation. Her proposal seems to balance the needs accordingly.