SANTA FE SPRINGS — The owner of a topless bar called the Cat Patch has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, asking the court to rule whether a city zoning ordinance that would close his business is unconstitutional.
An attorney for Cat Patch Inc. announced the lawsuit Monday during a Planning Commission hearing. Under consideration by the commission was the bar owner's request that the Cat Patch be allowed to continue in business.
The city planning department has recommended denying the bar owner's request, based on a 1979 zoning ordinance that prohibits adult businesses within 500 feet of schools or property zoned for residents. The ordinance gave nonconforming businesses five years to alter their activities or close. Adult businesses are permitted in some commercial zones but even there must have a conditional use permit to operate.
The Cat Patch, on Broadway, is in a commercial zone, but is within 500 feet of 13 apartment buildings, 14 homes and a preschool/day-care facility, according to a planning department report on the case. Deadline for compliance with the 1979 zoning code was last December.
To stay in business, the Cat Patch needs a waiver of the ordinance as well as a conditional use permit.
The report also said that the bar does not meet requirements for a conditional use permit in part because it "periodically creates nuisances" and "has adversely affected the public safety and welfare" in the area. Moreover, the topless bar is not consistent with the city's general plan to "reduce conflict" between residential areas and areas zoned for different uses, the report said.
(The Holiday Tavern, a second topless bar in Santa Fe Springs, was granted a two-year conditional use permit in February. It is on Norwalk Boulevard in a commercial zone and is not within 500 feet of residentially zoned property, said George Beaty, assistant director for planning. A mobile home park behind the tavern is zoned for industrial use, Beaty said.)
In his remarks Monday before the commission, Cat Patch attorney Robert Mitchell claimed the 1979 ordinance was enacted to keep adult businesses from moving into Santa Fe Springs, not to penalize businesses like the Cat Patch that were already there.
The ordinance deliberately did not name topless bars in its definition of adult businesses, Mitchell said, and is unconstitutional because it is ambiguous.
In addition, he said it violates the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of expression.
According to City Atty. William Camil, the 1979 ordinance was intended "to eliminate adult businesses from certain areas and there was no intent to exclude topless from the definition of what an adult business is."
The Cat Patch, he said, is an adult business under the ordinance.
Cat Patch owner John Marsh told the commission Monday that the bar, which has provided topless entertainment since 1966, is the oldest continually operating topless bar in the country.
"Certainly no business of this kind can survive without responsible management," Marsh said. "I've done a good job running my business." Records from the Norwalk Sheriff's Station going back to the late '60s show arrests in and around the bar for public drunkenness, drunken driving, assault with a deadly weapon, possession of drugs and battery on a police officer, the report said.
State Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators have found sale of alcohol to minors, totally nude dancing, solicitation and lewd conduct at the site, the report said. However, the state has never issued a citation against the bar for solicitation and lewd conduct, said Dick Weaver, director of planning and development in Santa Fe Springs.
Since 1971, the state has suspended the bar's alcoholic beverage license at least three times, the report said. A review of documents accompanying the city report found that at least two of the suspensions were later changed to $500 fines. The ABC has issued no citations against the bar in the last seven years, Mitchell said.
Mitchell did not dispute the police reports.
"We're not claiming we're a Baskin-Robbins operation," he said. "Out of thousands of people (at the bar), you're going to have one or two fighting."
The city's report also cited traffic and parking problems around the bar and "adverse noise effects" in the parking lot, including "patrons shouting, arguing, fighting, racing engines (and) breaking bottles.'
In a rebuttal to the report, Mitchell said that the "Cat Patch has survived where hundreds of similar-type businesses have not . . .. There is a substantial amount of public acceptance and support."
The apartments and the child-care center in the area were built years after the Cat Patch opened, Mitchell said. Moreover, he said, the children's center is closed on weekends and nights, when the bar does most of its business.
Traffic and noise complaints, Mitchell said, are "immaterial and unsubstantial things." And, considering the large number of patrons, he said, the problems from infractions of the law are "diminutive."
Resident Neoma Veloff, 43, who lives in an apartment near the bar, does not agree.
"I'm against the Cat Patch," she told the Planning Commission at the hearing Monday. "I'm bothered by it very much . . .. We're not happy with the noise at 3 o'clock in the morning."
The public hearing on the Cat Patch case will continue before the commission June 24.