Local massage parlor may face unhappy ending

By Victoria Pardini

Local massage parlor may face unhappy ending

Residents in a South Berkeley neighborhood are alleging that a local massage parlor is a front for a prostitution ring and are urging the city to shut it down, though city officials say a more thorough investigation is needed to make any decision about the business’s fate.

The Sunflower Wellness Center, located at 2103 Woolsey St., was challenged in court by the city in 2009 after a prostitution sting by the Berkeley Police Department, which arrested one individual on suspicion of prostitution. The individual was let off with a charge of disrupting the peace, and although accusations and complaints surrounding the business quieted down, residents and neighboring business owners have recently voiced renewed suspicion that the parlor may be a front for illicit operations.

Gregory Daniel, code enforcement supervisor for the city, said he has received around four complaints about the parlor from neighbors in the area.

“At this point, we’re just looking at permit history to determine what the legal use of the property is, and is that consistent with what is going on,” Daniel said.

Some residents are displeased by the failure of the initial operation by the police department and are hoping the city’s enforcement office will find a discrepancy in the parlor’s license and ultimately close the business.

“The (district attorney) is essentially allowing them to operate,” said Sallie Hanna-Rhyne, who lives in the neighborhood.

The wellness center could not be reached for comment.

According to police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, the department is typically limited to arresting people, while the enforcement office is capable of evicting businesses.

“We make arrests, and we send them to the district attorney for review,” Kusmiss said. “We’re hoping the process of working with code enforcement will be the most effective tool to alleviate the issues the community and the neighborhood is feeling about them.”

According to Steve Deutsch, who owns the music shop below the parlor, the business has been operating for about two-and-a-half years, and neighbors have noticed strange behavior within and around the parlor on and off for about two years.

While some nearby businesses said their clientele has not been affected by the allegations, Hanna-Rhyne said neighbors have discussed the problem and are planning to hold community meetings to further address the alleged activities.

“If it’s a massage and healing place, that’s one thing,” Deutsch said. “I’d really rather not have it.”

Some residents and business owners have also noticed that the parlor attracts only male clients. Deutsch and Hanna-Rhyne both said they have seen ads in the sex section of the East Bay Express for the parlor.

Daniel said there is no timeline for the office to make a decision on whether the massage parlor has violated its license. If the office finds any permit violations, it will then have to determine the appropriate solution for the business and the residents.

“It’s a neighborhood concern,” Deutsch said. “I do a lot of mom and pop things, and kids come here, and I’d rather not have it.”

Read more here: http://www.dailycal.org/article/111577/local_massage_parlor_may_face_unhappy_ending
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