LONG BEACH — One month, three vice squad visits and eight arrests after Le Sex Shoppe opened briefly at a new downtown location, owners of the adult bookstore have asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to prohibit the city from enforcing its adult entertainment zoning ordinance until he rules on its constitutionality.
EWAP Inc. opened the bookstore-which had been uprooted by downtown redevelopment from its original location-at Long Beach Boulevard and Broadway, a site that violates the city's ordinance because it is within 500 feet of a residential zone.
"To put it in a nutshell," said David Brown, a Beverly Hills attorney representing EWAP, "my client believes that the city's ordinances are unconstitutional and he has the right to ignore them."
The bookstore opened Dec. 7 and was padlocked by police for three days before reopening for one more day Dec. 11.
Condemned for Redevelopment
Le Sex Shoppe was at a prime downtown lot on Ocean Boulevard until last spring, when its building was condemned as part of the city's ongoing redevelopment effort. The bookstore had not been affected by the zoning ordinance because the law was not enacted until 1977, two years after Le Sex Shoppe opened there. The store had a lease until 1994.
Brown said the zoning ordinance is so restrictive that the bookstore, forced by the condemnation to relocate, could not move anywhere within the Long Beach limits. He has accused the city of attempting to use zoning to keep adult businesses out of the city.
City attorneys and planning officials say there are commercial and manufacturing areas where the bookstore could operate legally. Zoning Officer Dennis Eschen said some stores in Los Altos Shopping Center and areas on the Traffic Circle and on Carson Street would comply with the ordinance, which prohibits adult entertainment businesses within 1,000 feet of each other, a school or a public building and within 500 feet of a residential zone.
EWAP--the initials stand for Erotic Words and Pictures--claims all the proposed locations are unavailable or impractical. The Los Angeles-based company first challenged the law in federal court, then moved its suit last fall to Superior Court.
Reopened Dec. 7
In the meantime, the company decided to open a new battlefront. On Dec. 7, Le Sex Shoppe opened for business, with 29 movie viewing booths and racks of adult publications, although Eschen had said in July that the Long Beach Boulevard location would not be legal.
Police arrested clerks and nude dancers as EWAP sent more employees to its new store. A bondsman calling to make bail arrangements for some of those arrested said EWAP planned to continue sending replacements, according to a police file.
The police padlocked Le Sex Shoppe for three days. When the lock was removed, the store re-opened and arrests continued.
In all, one employee was arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant, four were arrested for operating a business without a license (one was arrested twice), and two were arrested for lewd dancing, said vice squad Lt. David Dusenbury.
City Prosecutor John Vander Lans decided not to file charges against one of the arrested dancers. But Vander Lans also added charges of establishing an adult entertainment business at an illegal location and failing to pay license fees against Howard Green and John R. DeMott of EWAP.
Arraignments in Long Beach Municipal Court, originally scheduled Friday, were postponed until March 14.
Brown said he expects Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Cole to decide before then whether to issue a preliminary injunction against the city. Cole said he would consider an order allowing Le Sex Shoppe to remain on Long Beach Boulevard during the trial if EWAP brings more evidence showing there is nowhere else it can operate. Brown said he hopes to bolster EWAP's case within the next 30 days.
The judge "left the door open, very definitely," said Arthur Honda, the city's senior deputy city attorney, who opposes the injunction.
Until a decision, however, Le Sex Shoppe will stay closed.
Said Brown: "I think both sides have made their point."