Is Walnut Creek a hotbed of massage and prostitution?
In a recent report to his city council, Walnut Creek Police Lieutenant Steve Skinner noted that his city had issued almost twice as many licenses to massage parlors (150) as to beauty salons (82). Massage parlors almost outnumbered accounting and tax services (183) and even restaurants (200). Can it be that residents of Walnut Creek like to relax as much as they like to eat?
During an October 16 appearance before the council, Skinner said the city used to have a massage-parlor ordinance, but that it was repealed in 1990 — apparently for financial reasons. Skinner told the East Bay Express that his department has been frustrated by its inability to arrest and forward prosecutors cases of suspected massage parlor prostitution. "Currently, there is no oversight through the city of Walnut Creek for the massage industry," he told the council. "As a result of that, over the past several years, what we have begun to see is an increase in illicit activity through many of our — what we refer to as illegitimate massage businesses in town — and that illicit activity mainly is prostitution."
"Most massage businesses are legitimate businesses that provide beneficial services to the community," Skinner wrote in his report. "Unfortunately, in some cases, massage businesses act as covers for houses of prostitution. ... Some of the massage salons in Walnut Creek do little to hide the fact that they are offering more than just massages. They regularly use scantly clad or nude women in seductive poses to advertise. They refuse their services to potential female clients, and even advertise on web sites dedicated exclusively to advertising prostitution." And there are those shady guys. "Citizens call to report being intimidated by suspicious characters lurking around these businesses for no apparent reasons."
"Through the detective bureau and investigations, over the last couple of years, we've responded to quite a few inquiries and complaints from business owners and citizens in the area regarding what they thought was illegal activity. We have followed up on all of those, and as a result, we have made several arrests for prostitution, mainly in the downtown court, through the last several years, all at massage areas therapy locations." In his report, he noted that an officer talked to a woman who posted nude photos of herself on the Internet — and had "several prior arrests for prostitution."
"When an undercover officer engaged the woman in conversation during an operation,'' he wrote, "she noted that the city of Walnut Creek had no ordinance governing massage salons, which was likely the reason she chose to open her business in downtown Walnut Creek." Not so for neighboring cities: Pleasant Hill, Concord, Clayton, Danville, Pleasanton, Pittsburg, Orinda, and San Ramon all regulate it.
So now Walnut Creek is preparing to consider a new ordinance regulating the parlors. The measure is expected to come before the council and pass quickly in the coming weeks. "The ordinance gives us the ability to perform background checks, including prior criminal history checks through the Department of Justice," Skinner wrote in an e-mail to the Express. "It also gives us the ability to hold everyone to one set of standards and if those standards are not met, we can revoke business licenses to operate in the city."
Corroborating evidence that Walnut Creek has an abundance of massage services can be found in the pages of this newspaper. Under the "Mind, Body, Spirit" section of a recent edition, ten Walnut Creek massage services had display ads. By contrast, Oakland, the city with the second-largest concentration of ads and a city renowned for its problems with prostitution, only boasted four such businesses. San Ramon and Dublin had two apiece. Seven of the ten Walnut Creek ads displayed come-hither-style pictures of a young Asian woman. One ad showed a nubile supposed masseuse with her mouth open, sucking on a Tootsie Roll Pop. Four of the ten ads also perennially describe their parlors as having a "Grand Opening."
In the interest of understanding whether Walnut Creek is very unrelaxed or very sexually frustrated, this reporter called the lollypop ad. The woman who answered, who spoke middling English, said a full hour was $60. "Cash only."
"So, do I take all my clothes off? And does she?"
"Only you," she said, and then hung up abruptly, probably thinking I was a colleague of officer Skinner.
So I tried another one. Again, $60 for an hour. I ventured further this time. I wouldn't have clothes, she told me, but "they cover you." So what do I get? "They help you feel better," she said. I went for it all. "Would I be finished, you know, on my back. How much to relieve the tension down under?"
"No extra!" she said.
Maybe officer Skinner is on to something. Walnut Creek may be about to lose its cachet as a destination city.
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