By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
A group of Woolsey Street residents are hoping Berkeley can find some way to get rid of a massage parlor and its steady stream of all-male customers where police made an arrest for prostition in 2009.
Using a different tactic to make it known the business is not wanted in the neighborhood, Berkeley police now have referred the Sunflower Wellness Center, at 2103 Woolsey Street near Shattuck Avenue, to the city's code enforcement division. The division is scrutinizing business and operating permits there, said Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel.
Neighbors say after police made arrests, the place was quiet for a few months, then the customers returned just like before. The business is also advertised as Sunflower Massage.
Sallie Hanna-Rhyne, who lives across the street, said people in the neighborhood don't want a wellness center or massage parlor on their block. And she is frustrated with the city's inability to make the business go away.
"They just keep saying they are aware of it, but why are they not doing something about it?" Hanna-Rhyne said. "This is a family neighborhood. We have children growing up here."
A person who answered the phone at Sunflower Massage hung up when asked about the neighbor's complaints.
Berkeley City Councilman Max Anderson, whose district includes the massage parlor, said he is aware of complaints about the business.
"I got a call from a constituent and I notified the city manager," Anderson said. "We don't need this in the community, that's for sure. Especially if neighbors are complaining and it's becoming a problem."
The Berkeley Police Special Investigations Bureau made an arrest for prostitution at Sunflower Wellness Center in June 2009, police said. The defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disturbing the peace in December 2009, authorities said.
Police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. said it's difficult to go after a business where prostitution may be ongoing because an officer has to be there to witness it. She said scrutinizing business permits and compliance with city codes is easier.
"Like other locations and businesses where there may be illegal sexual activity going on in the City of Berkeley, we have to confirm the elements of any crimes in order to get the probable cause for any arrests," Kusmiss said.
"The employees who offer, and those customers who are seeking a particular service, are not likely going to tell the police. We have found in other cases like this one that our collaboration with City of Berkeley Code Enforcement has been more successful in addressing any ongoing activity."
Marty Conrad, who has lived on Woolsey Street for 30 years, said she has contacted the landlord of the building but got no response.
"My concern is this is a residential neighborhood with lots of children," Conrad said. "Having lived here for 30 years, whenever you have something that is illegal like prostitution there is usually drugs and exploitation. I'm against prostitution and I don't want it in my neighborhood."