Asian Massage Los Angeles
By day, a crew of masseurs at one of the San Gabriel Valley's many foot massage businesses offer to sooth the aches and pains of a mostly elderly and female clientele.
When the sun sets, glowing red paper lanterns click on at another part of the establishment, where a younger female massage staff caters to mostly male customers.
The question of what's going on in such establishments, and what, if anything, local authorities can or should do about it, has taken on new focus as California cities decide how to use new regulatory tools given to them by an amendment to the state's massage law that went into effect this year.
The move follows a 2011 amendment that — following lobbying by the massage industry — loosened restrictions and unleashed a proliferation of new businesses statewide.
The number of state-certified masseuses has risen 13% since 2014 to 51, 885 this year, according to the California Massage Therapy Council, a nonprofit that the state created in 2009 to certify masseuses, approve schools and standardize curriculum.
Nationwide, the massage industry is growing as medical establishments increasingly embrace massage's therapeutic benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates the number of massage therapist jobs will grow 23% between 2012 and 2022.
Relatively cheap and easy to get off the ground, massage businesses have been spreading most notably in places with large numbers of immigrants from China, where massages are as common as haircuts and the practice has a long history.
Massage businesses have flourished, for example, in the predominantly Asian San Gabriel Valley. Since California relaxed its law in 2011, a dozen new massage parlors opened up in Arcadia. South Pasadena, a 3.4-square-mile community of 25, 000, now has 19. Monterey Park gained at least half a dozen, and surrounding cities have experienced similar increases.
According to the council, more than 5, 400 massage technicians list home addresses in Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Rosemead or Alhambra — 10% of the massage technicians in the entire state.
Now that cities have more authority over massage parlors, officials are weighing how to balance the rights of a growing profession of legitimate massage therapists against the responsibility to solve problems caused by the less savory businesses.
An athlete with sore muscles or an office worker with a stiff neck could not browse long online without running into websites offering Yelp-style reviews of sexually oriented massage parlors. Posters swap information, using abbreviations and acronyms to throw authorities off the trail. One site shows 44 erotic massage establishments in San Gabriel alone.