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CitySweep: Naked Truths 

Adult entertainment industry lands in City Council’s lap

Thursday, Sep 11 2003
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Well, look what we have here. The ladies are back. Isn’t that nice?

Oh, you remember the ladies. They were here at City Hall a few months ago to protest that plan to ban something called lap dancing in L.A. They talked about how hard it would be to put food on the table, get shoes for the kids, pay tuition and earn their college degrees if the city prohibited them from taking a seat on the laps of the kindly gentlemen who paid them visits every now and then. Their plight rekindled the crusading spirit of local journalists, many of whom had become too bogged down with paperwork over the years to leave the newsroom but now realized the need for some old-fashioned fieldwork. Site visits, interviews, that kind of thing.

Well, anyway, the ladies, or dancers, as some prefer to be called, got a great deal of assistance from their very own employers. In a laudable example of good management-employee relations, the operators and even some owners of these gentlemen’s clubs came to the City Council to testify on their behalf. They even hired lawyers and lobbyists, with their own money, to help protect their workers from the council’s attempt to interfere with their livelihood.

And they needed those lawyers and lobbyists because these clubs have been hounded lately by people who — would you believe it? — fail to see the value of new businesses in their neighborhoods. The council members didn’t really know quite what to do, so they referred the matter to committee. But now it’s back. It is due to come to the council floor next Tuesday, and if you missed the testimony in June, you may want to be on hand this time.

Actually, gentlemen’s clubs and municipal lap-dance bans have been in the news a bit since the L.A. dancers last addressed their elected representatives. In San Diego, the U.S. attorney charged that a strip-club owner, chafing under a local “no touch” ordinance much like the one pending here, bribed three city council members to repeal the law. The elected officials were indicted two weeks ago. Meanwhile, three Seattle council members were caught this summer taking money from a gentlemen’s-club owner on the eve of a zoning vote to give him more parking spaces. These club owners apparently can be very enthusiastic and persuasive.

Closer to home, gentlemen’s clubs (in less enlightened times I’m afraid we called them “nudie bars”) and the civil servants who issue their permits have had a couple problems. On Grand Avenue just south of downtown, for example, someone from the Department of Building and Safety signed off on a strip-club permit across the street from the construction site of a new school. The problem is, city law demands at least 500 feet separating schools from gentlemen’s clubs, perhaps in the belief that young students have not yet developed the same genteel sophistication as the gentlemen who bring their ready laps to the clubs.

The council voted to rescind the permit, but now it may have to pay off the club owner to keep him from suing over his sunk construction costs and his lost business opportunity. And if he sues, he probably won’t be suing just the city, but the school district too, which then will have little choice but to file its own claim against the city.

So that’s it? No. It turns out that yet another permit was issued for yet another strip club next to yet another school, in North Hollywood. This one is trickier. Apparently when our Building and Safety workers pulled out their tape measure and stretched it from the door of the school (not yet built) to the door of the club, it showed 503 feet. So everything was legal. Except that if you stretch the tape between property lines instead of front doors, you get 500 feet. Or maybe a little less. Which means the club may have to go. And it won’t go without a little something for its trouble.

So now our City Attorney’s Office and the school-district lawyers are trying to figure out whether the ordinance requiring that nudie bars, sorry, gentlemen’s clubs be 500 feet from a school means door to door or property line to property line. They also have to figure out when a school is a school, because as a lawyer for one club helpfully pointed out, just because you bought land and plan to build a school there doesn’t mean there is a school there yet for purposes of the 500-foot rule.

 

If you’re surprised these issues haven’t come up before, remember that no one around here has been building new public schools for the last 30 years or so. But strip clubs have been going up like crazy, in the form of “nude juice bars” that can get around nudity restrictions slapped on places that serve alcohol. Huge billboards direct you to them as you leave Staples Center or get off the Ventura Freeway and head north through Van Nuys. There are now two dozen such clubs, according to the LAPD, plus countless bars that have illegally followed the lead of the larger establishments by including dancers in various stages of undress.

If the dancers are allowed to testify again on Tuesday, they will talk about the First Amendment and their right to earn a living, and they will be right. And if the neighborhood activists testify again, they will talk about prostitution on their front lawns, drunks on their streets and the palpable decline of their quality of life. They will be right too. It’s a good bet that no one will talk about the city’s feeble attempts to deal with the issue, or about the growing political clout in Los Angeles of the adult entertainment industry.

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