Massage Regulations

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The passage of Assembly Bill (AB) 1147 reinstates local government regulatory control over certain aspects of massage businesses, most importantly, its land use authority. AB 1147 also expands the authority of counties and cities to regulate massage businesses through operating standards and permit, licensing, and certification requirements. 

On February 3, 2016, the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 2292 to regulate massage establishments in the City. The ordinance focuses on expanding and clarifying the procedural, operating, inspection and interest requirements for new and existing massage businesses.

Ordinance 2292 Massage Establishments

Massage regulations FACT SHEET

Operator permit application   


The ordinance:

  • amended Zoning Code Section 36.700.020 to delete “massage” from the definition of “personal services” and added a new definition of “massage establishment”;
  • revised Table 2-4 of Section 36.230.030 to require a Conditional Use Permit for Massage Establishments in the Commercial General (CG) zoning district; 
  • deleted massage establishments as a permitted use in the Commercial Office (CO) zoning district;
  • amended the South Pasadena Municipal Code Chapter 17 (Health and Sanitation) by repealing the existing Article II (Massage Establishments) and replacing it with a new Article II (Massage Establishments) that revises the requirements for operating massage establishments and for the certification of massage therapists or technicians in accordance with current law;
  • created a new Article III (Deemed Approved Massage Establishments) which provides a "deemed approved" status for existing legally operating massage establishments, subject to compliance with the standards of Article II;
  • repealed Ordinance No. 2267, a moratorium on the establishment and expansion of massage establishments.

In September 2009, the passage of Senate Bill 731 (SB 731) provided for the establishment of a nonprofit agency, the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), for the issuance of certifications to massage therapists and practitioners (collectively, massage therapists) that are valid throughout the state, thus preempting local governments’ massage technician certificates. In accordance with the law, massage therapists could not be required to obtain additional permits from a local city or county if they are state certified through the CAMTC.

In 2009, the City of South Pasadena (City) amended SPMC Chapter 17, Article II (Massage Parlors) so that the permit process for massage therapists conforms to SB 731 and that massage therapists and massage parlors are addressed separately. It also revised provisions for operating massage establishments, including various physical requirements for the business space, sanitation safeguards, and requirements for an operator’s permit and a procedure for both granting and revoking these permits.

The 2009 SPMC amendment recognized the CAMTC certification process for massage therapists; however, since SB 731 did not make CAMTC’s certification mandatory, the SPMC retained the ability for a massage therapist to obtain a certification from the City, including a detailed procedure for processing the application and for revoking it if necessary. According to staff, the City’s permitting process was never utilized during this period as all massage therapists obtained CAMTC certification and therefore did not have to adhere to the City’s certification procedures.

Further, the City could not require an operator’s permit as it was perceived to be in violation of SB 731. An unintended consequence of SB 731 was that it took away the ability of local governments to regulate the massage industry because it prohibited local governments from regulating or enacting ordinances for a business that employs certified massage therapists unless the requirements are “no different than the requirements that are uniformly applied to all other individuals and businesses providing professional services.”

Though SB 731 intended to reduce the chances of a massage business from becoming a front for prostitution, it significantly limited the ability of local governments to regulate and restrict massage businesses and resulted in the proliferation of massage businesses. The number of massage establishments in the City grew from five establishments prior to SB 731 in 2009 to 18 establishments from 2010 to mid-2011. Some of these establishments are legitimate and are welcome in the City, but a number of them are fronts for prostitution and human trafficking. Unfortunately, while legitimate massage businesses provide a benefit to the City, the illicit massage businesses operate in violation of state and local law, as well as contrary to the goals of the City’s General Plan, and are a threat to the health and safety of the citizens of South Pasadena. 

On March 5, 2014, in anticipation of SB 731’s sunset date of December 31, 2014, and the high probability of extending an amended version of the law, the City Council imposed a 45-day moratorium on the establishment or expansion of massage establishments citywide. On April 9, 2014, the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 2267, which extended the moratorium for an additional 22 months and 15 days in order to provide an opportunity to continue to study this issue and determine what zoning regulations or enforcement options the City can avail itself, and to investigate what measures neighboring municipalities have taken to mitigate this problem. The moratorium will expire on March 5, 2016, or upon effective date of a replacement ordinance, whichever comes first. 

A task force that included the California League of Cities and the CAMTC met throughout 2014 and resulted in Assembly Bill 1147 (AB 1147), signed by Governor Brown in September 2014.  AB 1147, a legislative victory for California cities, made several changes to the make-up of the CAMTC and made the certification of massage therapists mandatory instead of optional, as was the case under SB 731.  More significantly, AB 1147 restored local governments’ ability to impose land use and zoning regulations on massage establishments.  The proposed ordinance amendments are intended to reassert the City’s ability to regulate these businesses.


Additional information for new regulations are available at

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