No Happy Ending

Xiao Yan Zhang Runnalls and her husband, Greg, unsuccessfully argue their case at the Monterey Appeals Hearing Board to keep Bay Spa open.

It was a surprise inspection that brought a pair of Monterey police officers to the Bay Spa massage parlor on Figueroa Street just before 7pm on March 22, 2019.

Inside the establishment, which was applying for a renewal of its operating permit, the officers found no manager on duty, only a couple of women who worked there. They said they didn’t know who owned the massage parlor and that they normally lived in Los Angeles. Their English wasn’t very good and their answers weren’t straightforward, according to recent testimony from Monterey Police Officer Sabrina Perez. She felt that either the women didn’t fully understand her or that they were struggling to decide what information to conceal.

As the officers walked through the parlor they snapped photographs, collecting evidence of city code violations. On a table, they found an unopened bottle of wine. There was also what looked like a living area with a rice cooker and a bulk bag full of rice, and beds and closets full of clothes. “The use of the space for sleeping is a huge red flag for prostitution and human trafficking,” Deputy City Attorney Ryan Donlon later said. Finally, the officers found a tube of Astroglide, a lubricant marketed for and used in sex.

In a follow-up to the inspection, Monterey police detectives discovered advertising for Bay Spa on adultsearch.com and rubmaps.com, websites resembling Yelp for prostitution services. Police found about 50 customer reviews with physical descriptions of the massage therapists and explicit references to sex acts.

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Police denied Bay Spa’s application for a permit renewal. The details of the investigation became public after Bay Spa’s owner, Xiao Yan Zhang Runnalls, filed to challenge the denial in front of the city’s Appeals Hearing Board. English is her second language so she brought her husband, Greg Runnalls, to speak on her behalf at a hearing for the appeal on Oct. 4.

In statements to the board and in testimony, Greg Runnalls admitted to several of the violations, such as having wine on the premises and not having a manager present at all times. But he called these violations “minor oversights” that have since been fixed. He denied that employees ever lived at the parlor and said no sex work happened at Bay Spa, only professional massages.

The Appeals Hearing Board sided with police, revoking the parlor’s permit. There are 10 permitted massage parlors in Monterey, down from about 30 four years ago. Over the past year alone, four massage businesses have been closed by police over violations of city codes designed to suppress human trafficking and prostitution.

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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