DOWNEY — A coalition of church and civic groups Tuesday submitted petitions bearing more than 2,500 signatures urging the City Council to ban from Downey sidewalks vending machines offering sexually oriented publications that could be purchased by children.
More than 100 residents packed the council chambers to press their demands with a sympathetic City Council.
"Anyone with 50 or 75 cents in their pocket can go to these machines and get materials as bad or worse than Playboy" or other publications sold in stores only to adults, Joseph C. Grana, pastor of the First Christian Church told the City Council.
"Our main concern is material that's available to children," he said after the meeting. "It's not a big book-burning endeavor."
Grana cited studies that he said show a correlation between crime and the availability of sexually explicit material.
The coalition wants the vending machines to be taken off Downey sidewalks and the publications to be sold in stores, where sales can be monitored.
Sex Promoted on Cover
The vending machines offer publications such as New Reality, which describes itself as "An adult newspaper for swingers, men, women and couples" 18 and older, and Hollywood Press, which says on its cover that it is "A sexual freedom publication."
Grana said the tabloids can be purchased from vending machines in 19 locations throughout the city. The publications contain brief stories, but mostly advertisements for massage parlors, escort services and telephone services offering sexually explicit messages. Nude women are pictured in many of the ads.
Mayor James S. Santangelo, and Councilmen Roy L. Paul and Randall R. Barb spoke in favor of removing the racks from city sidewalks. Santangelo directed City Atty. Carl Newton to report at the Feb. 24 City Council meeting how to accomplish that.
"I think there's got to be something we can do," Paul said. "I just can't believe that we can't regulate those somehow."
Opaque Covers Permitted
The City Council attempted to regulate public exposure of the tabloids in July, 1985, when it amended the municipal code, which prohibits public display of written material describing sexual acts, and pictures of sexual acts and genitals.
The amendment allowed such material to be sold in newspaper racks outfitted with opaque covers to hide the publications.
"It was in order to maybe encourage the use of the opaque news racks," Newton said. "I guess it didn't have that effect."
Newton said the city may encourage the use of opaque covers for the racks in question, but it probably could not impose any restrictions because of constitutional free-speech guarantees.
'We Need to Take a Risk'
But Barb said the city should begin enforcing the law despite legal problems that could arise. "We need to take a risk," said Barb. "One of the issues at stake is defining what is a legitimate newspaper."
Telephone calls to the offices of New Reality, Hollywood Press and two other publications sold in Downey went unanswered or were not returned.
The campaign began in December when Grana and two other ministers began contacting Downey churches and civic groups to determine if their members found the racks objectionable. The three, working through the Downey Ministerial Fellowship, formed a pornography task force that drew support from the Downey Coordinating Council, a coalition of area civic organizations, Grana said.
He said 2,727 signatures were collected from Downey residents, while 141 signatures were from concerned people who live outside the city.
Found on School Grounds
Pastor Tim Smith of the Church of the Nazarene in Downey said the task force received letters from principals at three Downey elementary schools who confiscated the adult tabloids from students.