Aiming to rub out unlicensed massage therapists and prostitution houses, the Scottsdale City Council on Tuesday toughened its ordinance that regulates the booming massage industry.
The council unanimously voted to place tighter controls on massage establishments and their employees, while leaving some flexibility for therapists who already practice in Scottsdale.
"Everyone needs to understand that we're not trying to punish the legal massage businesses," said Councilman Wayne Ecton. "What we are trying to do is really going to be good for the industry as a whole."
Major changes include annual fingerprinting and background checks, fee increases, limited hours of operation and requiring that new therapists pass a national certification exam and have 500 hours of training.
Several therapists voiced concerns that the city was harming the legitimate members of the industry in its zeal to crack down on massage parlors that are fronts for prostitution.
"There is no doubt there are things that can't continue to go on here," massage therapist Derek Cardoza said of illegitimate establishments. "But I'm here to implore you not to punish the rest of the industry."
Scottsdale police have reported they have received an increase in complaints from a variety of sources about prostitution and unlicensed therapists. About 15 percent to 20 percent of establishments have been identified as conducting some form of "illicit activity," said Capt. Burl Haenel.
"This is literally in response to citizens' concerns," Mayor Mary Manross said.
In December, a Tribune report detailed the proliferation of massage parlors in downtown and south Scottsdale. Soon after, city officials spearheaded meetings with merchants and residents to gauge their concerns about the issue.
There are about 140 "massage facility licenses" in the city, and about half of them have been issued in the past several years, according to the city's tax and licensing department. More than 1,500 licensed massage therapists are working in the city.
The city softened the ordinance several weeks ago in response to outcry from therapists, and in light of a new state law that will begin regulating the industry next year.
The city had wanted to establish a local oversight board that administered tests for therapists. Officials scrapped those plans, however, because the new state law calls for a statewide board that will eventually be charged with testing and licensing.
The city also wanted licensed therapists to pass a national certification exam and have 500 hours of training. Officials changed the ordinance to include a "grandfather" clause, which allows licensed therapists to bypass the new requirements.
"They struck an incredible compromise," said Michael Tapscott, a massage therapy manager for a large Scottsdale resort.