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Long Beach to Try Zoning Gambit on Adult Attractions

March 23, 1986|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Each day the story's the same on Gundry Avenue. Albert and Dorothy Watson take up post behind the Venetian blinds in their comfortable, three-bedroom house and watch the tide of strangers roll into the neighborhood.

The intruders, almost always men, pull up in their cars, glance furtively at the neighborhood's knot of tidy homes, and head for a common destination--the Grand Prix Theater, an X-rated movie house at the end of the block.

An elderly couple, the Watsons don't much like what the theater has done to their North Long Beach neighborhood since the business opened in 1972.

Patrons, they say, routinely litter and hog parking spots on the street. On one occasion, a man paused to urinate in the couple's neatly clipped shrubs. Worst of all, the Watsons fear that the theater acts as a magnet for crime, attracting prostitutes who ply their trade on nearby Artesia Boulevard.

"This was a nice neighborhood until that thing came in here," said Dorothy Watson, 75. "I'd like to get rid of it so I could spend my last few years on earth in a nice, quiet neighborhood again."

Ambitious Effort

She may not have to wait long. The Long Beach City Council has undertaken an ambitious effort that would force adult bookstores and theaters like the Grand Prix out of residential neighborhoods.

On Tuesday, the council ordered the city attorney to draw up an ordinance that would give adult-oriented businesses located within 500 feet of residential areas, churches or schools until January, 1989, to move. The measure will be reviewed by the Planning Commission, then returned to the council for possible adoption.

The sweeping new proposal has been given impetus by a recent U. S. Supreme Court decision that permits regulation of adult-oriented businesses under zoning laws, without considering whether the books and movies they deal in are obscene.

Councilman Warren Harwood, who is championing the legislation, contends that the dozens of adult theaters and bookstores peppered in neighborhoods throughout Long Beach create an unfair hardship for residents.

"The impact on the neighborhoods is tremendous," Harwood said. "A certain type of clientele looking for a certain type of entertainment is attracted to these businesses. That provides a potential market for prostitutes and other crime and that's just not compatible with a comfortable residential community."

'Unfounded Assumption'

Operators of adult-oriented businesses chafe at such assessments, maintaining that their patrons are no different than those flocking to general-release movie houses or bookstores.

"This proposal is built on the unfounded assumption that people who go to adult theaters are somehow different," said Stanley Fleishman, a Los Angeles attorney representing Pussycat Theaters, which operates the X-rated Lakewood theater in Long Beach. "It's kind of a return to Jim Crow. They want to segregate these theaters."

Rufus Harrison, owner of the Grand Prix Theater, said the proposed law "seems kind of unjustified" because he and other operators of adult theaters and bookstores have invested their money and time into the businesses.

"If you're going to enforce it, enforce it from the beginning," Harrison said. "Don't just start giving a guy a hassle after he's already got the business going."

While city officials contend that the law would force adult bookstores and theaters to simply relocate to more suitable sites in industrial sections of Long Beach, Fleishman said the measure amounts to "a transparent effort to get rid of adult theaters throughout the city" once and for all.

"There's no practical place to go," he said, adding that the proposal was an effort to exclude adult businesses for "no reason other than prejudice and stupidity."

Bid Called Censorship

Moreover, Fleishman said, the law was "a veiled attempt" at censorship and promised that adoption of the measure by the City Council would only prompt a prolonged legal battle he is confident could be won by backers of adult-oriented businesses.

In recent years, the courts have been the battlefront for numerous struggles between city governments and adult theaters in Los Angeles County and throughout the country.

Despite such fireworks, those conflicts could soon be eclipsed by the new law being considered by Long Beach council members.

The sweeping legislation is by no means the first effort by the council to regulate adult-oriented businesses. In 1977, the council approved an ordinance prohibiting adult-oriented businesses from opening up near residential neighborhoods, churches and schools. That measure, however, did not challenge existing bookstores and theaters--such as the Grand Prix--which were opened before the council took its action.

Last month, the legal groundwork was laid for the new assault on those businesses.

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