Berkeley Cracks Down on...Chair Massages?

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If you’re planning to de-stress with a chair massage, better go to Oakland. Chair massage businesses in Berkeley — at least at Berkeley’s Whole Foods Market — have been suspended. Last week, On the Spot Massage, a small Berkeley business that has been sending chair-massage therapists to knead the necks of shoppers at the foodie mecca for seven years, was slapped with a fine and told their operation is illegal. The laws they broke are aimed at curbing prostitution.

coming soon to a black market near you?
  • coming soon to a black market near you?
On the Spot masseuses give massages to fully-clothed people in plain view of Whole Foods shoppers and staff.

The issue is now getting sorted out among the city manager’s office, the city attorney’s office and the city council. Councilman Jesse Arreguin will bring an emergency measure to next Tuesday’s city council meeting; he hopes that will get the chair massage business up and running again, although it still will take a second reading of the ordinance and 30 days for it to become law. Arreguin’s proposal is to tweak Berkeley’s ordinance to look like Oakland’s and allow massages for people “fully clothed and sitting upright” in establishments whose primary business is not giving massages.

But there are still questions at this point about whether Arreguin’s proposal would actually allow the chair massages to resume: it seems that, in addition to the permit for the massage business, Whole Foods may have to get new zoning permits to allow massages, according to Councilman Kriss Worthington.

City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross writes in an e-mail: “One person received an administrative citation from Code Enforcement. The proprietor of On the Spot massage did not have a permit to operate a massage business. She had 9 employees and dispatched them to various locations to provide massages. None of those employees had a massage permit or was even eligible for permits (BMC 9.32), but regardless, they were not cited. At this point, the citation amount is still due.”

The owner of On the Spot message declined an interview, saying that she hopes to work out the problems amicably with city officials.

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