Stephanie Chuang reports on a crackdown on massage parlors which are allegedly offering a lot more than an honest rub.
It’s a first-of-its-kind move in Fremont: temporarily shutting down massage parlors that may be engaged in “questionable” adult activities by way of code enforcement instead of draining police resources.
The Fremont Police Department teamed up with city code enforcement to temporarily shut down businesses that were drawing in complaints from residents from January through March, that’s according to Geneva Bosques, a spokesperson for Fremont Police.
“The police department started receiving complaints via the anonymous tip line of specific massage establishments in town that were possible engaging in adult-oriented services,” Bosques explained.
So during the first week of April, police officers and code enforcement officers went to five massage businesses across Fremont, which were all temporarily shut down or “red-tagged” for building code violations.
At Perfect Sunny Spa off of Warm Springs Boulevard in the Fremont Times Square plaza, Bosques said the questionable activity started as soon as the city officials arrived.
“The manager as soon as she saw our officer walk in, she hit a light switch that turned on every light in the establishment as an alarm,” said Bosques. “The officers did a room by room check. In one case, a female ran out the back door.”
The next stop across Mission Boulebard also on Warm Springs Boulevard was Stars Day Spa.
“We did encounter a male and female in a room who were both naked.
They tried to barricade the door,” Bosques said. Christine Civiletti was one of the code enforcement officers conducting the searches. She said Stars Day Spa also had major building code violations, including illegal electrical wiring that put everyone nearby in danger of a possible fire.
There was also illegal plumbing she said built up sewage in exterior hallways, giving off a very foul odor. Sunlight Day Spa and Happy Feet on Grimmer Boulevard are next-door neighbors. Civiletti said those were equipped with multiple surveillance cameras illegally mounted outside, something they found at all five sites.
“Every massage establishment we went to had multiple surveillance cameras viewing every angle of the parking lots,” said Civiletti. “We determined they were basically to monitor for police activity coming in.”
She added even though no illegal “adult activities” were observed at the two massage businesses while officers were there, her team found one violation after another, from massage therapists with no licenses to how scantily-clad they were, wearing lacy, lingerie-type of attire.
According to city law, Civiletti said, massage therapists must cover everything from cleavage to the upper thigh. Amazing Spa on Fremont Boulevard in the Ardenwood area is the only one of the five sites that’s reopened.
The owner told NBC Bay Area off-camera that the only real problem that shut him down was electrical wiring. He added his new business, open less than a month when it was red-tagged, is completely legitimate and only scrutinized because it’s an Asian massage practice.
Bosques said no arrests were made because the point wasn’t to seek and punish prostitutes, but to do two things. First, avoid putting police officers in compromising positions that might end up in an arrest, but possibly no prosecution of the misdemeanor offense.
Secondly, she said going after building code and permit violations would hit the people in charge of running these businesses where it would hurt the most.
“Every day they’re closed, they’re losing money,” explained Bosques. “It’s making it more challenging for them to pay their rent.”
Bosques added there was a bigger picture problem involved: the women may not want to be there in the first place. “There could be human trafficking behind it and in so many cases, they’re victims as well.”
Civiletti said the four places that are still closed have until the first or second week of May to make sure they correct the building code violations, doing everything from fixing the plumbing to electrical wiring.
As for other violations, like practicing without the proper license, those have to be handled with the city separately.
Any conditional use permit in question will have to go in front of the planning commission. The finance director may take action, as well, including putting a ten-year moratorium on a particular location to prevent a similar business from settling there for a decade.