Thursday, February 3, 2011

City to Investigate 20 Massage Parlors After 1 Closed for Zoning Violations

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Neighbors of a Berkeley massage parlor celebrated Tuesday as they watched operators pack up and leave after the city issued four zoning violations carrying fines of $500 a day.
The city is now reviewing the zoning and business permits of about 20 other massage parlors around town, said Berkeley Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel.
"Given what happened with this massage parlor, we will be reviewing others as well," Daniel said. "We're going to look at all the others to make sure they are properly zoned."
A female employee of the massage parlor at 2103 Woolsey Street, which went by the name of Sunflower Wellness Center and Sun Flower Massage, was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of prostitution, but pled to a lesser charge of disturbing the peace.
But that didn't stop the steady stream of men pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of her cleaning business before entering the massage parlor said Kieu Chu, who works in a dry cleaner below the massage parlor.
Chu said she and area residents were glad to see the business pack up and leave after two years.
"Sometimes the guys would come in here because they couldn't find the massage parlor and I didn't want to be associated with that," Chu said. 
After the parlor's operators were informed that the business was violating zoning rules, the pair attempted to obtain a second massage parlor license under the moniker Lucky Health Center, according to a report by code enforcement division.
It was only after the city went after the landlords,
Yvonne Lee and Alice Chan of Pacifica, with fines of $500 a day, that the massage parlor operators decided to leave, Daniel said.
"We go after the landlord because they have a vested interest in the property," Daniel said. "The leverage is with the property owner and hopefully they just pack up and leave like these folks are doing."
Lee, however, said she is "very upset with the city" over the fines she received.
"It's very unfair to the landlord," Lee said. "Of course I told the (massage parlor operator) she couldn't do this or that, but the way the city is treating the landlord is totally ridiculous." Lee said she plans to call a press conference after the city settles her case.
Daniel said the police department referred the massage parlor to his department to scrutinize permits after investigators ran out of law enforcement options to get the massage parlor to leave.
Berkeley Police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said it is 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.
None of the three massage parlor operators were available for comment.
Salley Hanna-Rhyne, a piano teacher who lives across the street, said she was overjoyed to see the massage parlor packing up and going after two years.
"I'm very glad the city of Berkeley nailed these people," Hanna-Rhyne said. "We all just danced in the street when we saw the guy from the city putting the zoning violations notice on their door."

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