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Customers are going to have to look a tad harder to find massage parlors specializing in more than just kneading muscles to relieve tension. This year, the police department has cracked down on more than illicit massage businesses across the city. In the past 10 months or so, the vice unit has forced deviant parlors to shutter their doors, prompting dozens of massage businesses to apply for permits to work legitimately.
In fact, it had gotten so bad that in January, the nonprofit Polaris, which works to prevent human trafficking, declared Santa Clara as the county with the third highest concentration of illicit massage parlors in the United States. The sketchy salons had been allowed to operate, the report said, in part because of weak laws and enforcement. Several years ago, the City Council passed an ordinance that required massage therapists to have state licenses and parlors, owners and managers to get permits to operate.
But few massage businesses went to the trouble of applying for permits and, when they did receive warnings, few businesses took them seriously. But last year, the City Council said that bringing personal care businesses into compliance with the law was a priority. So in early , the vice unit stepped up collaboration with the permits unit and other city offices, increased covert investigations and began educating landlords about the types of business being conducted on their property.
According to a new report by Police Chief Eddie Garcia, of the massage parlors suspected of prostitution this year, have closed. Of the 60 covert investigations police performed, 54 of the businesses were offering prostitution services to clients. On Stevens Creek Boulevard just east of Westfield Valley Fair, two adjacent massage parlors — Pink Pearl and Sakura Spa — shuttered after covert operations revealed prostitution activities. So have dozens of other shops, often those that had operated during late hours behind darkened storefronts and locked doors where customers needed to be buzzed in.
Permit applications are also up, from just seven in to 67 so far this year. That, police say, is a sign that more businesses are seeking to work within the confines of the law. Another 33 illicit massage parlors are expected to close in the next six months, leaving the city with about 45 more massage parlors suspected of illicit activity to investigate, according to the report. If shuttered businesses try to reopen under new names with the same manager, Messier said, police will deny their massage permits or push for their eviction.