CORONA — The phone was disconnected, and a hand-lettered sign Monday on the plywood-covered door of Corona's only adult bookstore said simply: "We are closed."
Thus ended Corona's four-year legal battle to close the Adult Book Store. The closure came at the deadline set in a tentative out-of-court settlement reached 5 1/2 weeks ago by attorneys representing bookstore owner Helen Ebel and the city.
Under that agreement, the city is to assume the remaining four months of Ebel's lease on the West 6th Street storefront that has been a center of controversy since its opening in July, 1981.
Corona also is slated to pay $97,000 in Ebel's attorney's fees.
"As far as I know," City Manager James Wheaton said Monday afternoon, ". . . the whole deal has not yet come together. There's a draft of an agreement floating around that says, for example, that the city will write a check (for the attorney's fees) and deliver it today.
"We have not been informed how that check is to be written," he said.
Rent Is Owed
Another obstacle to closing the bookstore case, Wheaton said, is back rent owed on the storefront.
"The owner does not want to allow the city to occupy (the building) because the former tenant is in arrears," the city manager said. "If the agreement were executed, we would just take the arrears out of the $97,000" in attorney's fees.
The city plans to move its public works inspectors' offices to the storefront, which is two blocks east of the Civic Center, while planned renovations are under way at City Hall, Wheaton said.
Neither Ebel, who owns another adult bookstore in Garden Grove, nor Roger Diamond, her attorney, could be reached for comment Monday. Both previously have refused to comment on the settlement.
A few days after Ebel opened her Corona store in 1981, the City Council passed an emergency moratorium on adult bookstores, saying it needed time to enact permanent restrictions.
Ebel Sued City
Ebel closed her store in compliance with the urgency ordinance. She also sued Corona in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where she won a temporary restraining order prohibiting the enforcement of the ban with respect to her store.
A month later, in October, 1981, the city passed a permanent ordinance restricting possible locations for adult bookstores and similar businesses to certain commercial zones, away from churches, schools, parks and residential areas. The ordinance gave Ebel 60 days to find a new location.
But U.S. District Judge William P. Gray ruled in January, 1984, that the ordinance left Ebel unable to find a legal location within Corona. His decision was upheld four months ago by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the city had unconstitutionally applied the zoning ordinance to Ebel after she opened her store.
The City Council voted to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that appeal will be dropped as part of the settlement.
While the city's zoning ordinance was under attack in the federal courts, Corona had filed its own suit in state court, seeking to have the bookstore's wares declared a public nuisance and essentially force its closure.
The California Supreme Court heard arguments on pretrial issues in that case in June, but the bookstore's closing will render that case moot, city officials have said.