HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | Over the past few years, the Hayward City Council has tried to legislate away some of its more seedy downtown elements. On Tuesday, the council unanimously approved new regulations on massage parlors enacted by the State Legislature, they says will make residents safer.

The ordinance regulates all massage therapy operators to be certified by the state. It also hopes to further bar businesses conducting illegal sexual services under the guise of a massage parlor. The assembly bill based on the ordinance, AB 1147 went into effect on Jan. 1.

A proliferation of massage businesses have sprouted in Hayward, said Councilmember Francisco Zermeno, who lauded the legislation passed last year. There is also the possibility some nefarious massage establishments could be currently participating in sex trafficking, added Zermeno. “But, we just don’t know.”

Councilmember Al Mendall, a former member of the city’s planning commission, said some businesses were often approved in the past because no regulations existed to vote down applications. “I’ve been looking forward to this,” he said Tuesday night. “It gives the power back to the city.”

The regulations not only dissuade illicit businesses in Hayward, said Mayor Barbara Halliday, but also encourage reputable healing arts practitioners. “It may have a bad connotation,” she said of massage parlors, “but, it’s a service people legitimately want and need.”

In addition, the ordinance gives Hayward’s police chief and city manager power to deny permits for massage parlors. Furthermore, the expunged convictions of applicants for massage parlors could be grounds for denial under the ordinance. However, the city may not exercise such authority, said city staff.

Hayward’s local economy languished during the past recession and has struggled since to attract new business to its remade downtown.

Previously, Hayward city leaders moved to ban outdoor food-sharing groups from feeding homeless people in downtown parks and they were one of the first East Bay cities to crackdown on illegal Internet gaming storefronts. One such establishment, in fact, resided across the street from Hayward City Hall. 
However, the expansion of the Palace Poker Casino near Jackson Street in 2013, was approved by the city council and described glowingly by one council member. “We should feel lucky to have a place like this in Hayward,” said Councilmember Greg Jones. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”