SANTA FE SPRINGS — John Marsh calls himself the longest surviving operator of bars that feature topless dancing and burlesque entertainment, having owned and operated the Cat Patch bar here since 1966.
And it looks like he is going to break his own record.
Under a tentative compromise, the City Council has agreed to allow Marsh to operate his topless bar until Jan 31, 1991. In return, Marsh will drop a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the city that challenges the constitutionality of a city ordinance restricting topless dancing.
"I had a choice to carry on the litigation endlessly and probably win," Marsh said, or to agree to operate the business for five more years. "The uncertainties weren't worth it. I prefer to avoid a fight and have a definite period to operate the business and then go from there."
City Atty. Bill Camil said the city was also reluctant to go through years of litigation. "We thought it was a fair agreement and so did they," he said.
The 1979 ordinance Marsh objected to allows adult businesses to operate only if they receive a conditional use permit. A permit cannot be issued if the business is within 500 feet of schools, residential zones or another adult business. The ordinance gave businesses until December, 1984, to comply or close.
Under the ordinance, the Cat Patch is too close to several apartment complexes and a child-care center. In December, the city ordered Marsh to stop offering topless entertainment.
Marsh applied for a conditional use permit and a zoning variance, but the Planning Commission denied his application in June. He appealed the decision to the City Council, which turned down his request in July.
The Cat Patch lawsuit claimed the ordinance was unconstitutional because it "placed an improper burden on the exercise of free expression," said Robert Mitchell, Marsh's attorney. Mitchell said it was an attempt to prevent the concentration of adult businesses in a certain area, "but there was nothing to disperse. It was the only one in that area."
After the City Council agreed to the tentative compromise in a closed session Sept. 12, neighbors of the bar at 8039 Broadway said they had not been aware of the agreement.
Although Marsh said he had received few complaints from residents, a manager at a nearby apartment complex said the bar discourages some potential renters. "They're not moving in (to the apartments) out of concern for the children." said Lucy Archer, who has managed the 133-unit complex for six weeks.
Mitchell said he had originally asked the city to give the Cat Patch seven more years, but agreed to a five-year extension because Marsh is approaching retirement age. He said that although the two parties have agreed in principle, a final agreement has not been hammered out. Mitchell said it is not certain if they will ask a judge to issue a binding court judgment or whether Marsh will drop the suit in return for a formal agreement with the city.
In the meantime, the city has moved to modify the law that Marsh challenged.
The proposed amendment would delete the requirement for a conditional use permit, Camil said, making it "less subject to a successful judicial attack." The proposed amendment would also reduce the nonconforming use period from five years to one year and delete provisions regulating signs for adult businesses.
Other Topless Bar
The only other topless bar in the city, the Holiday Tavern, was granted a two-year conditional use permit in February. George Beaty, assistant director of planning, said the bar met the criteria of the ordinance.
After a public hearing earlier this month, the council referred the amended ordinance back to the Planning Commission for further review.
Marsh, who will turn 63 in 1991, does not necessarily have to close his bar when the agreement expires, but he must do away with topless entertainment.. He said he does not know what he will do then.