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Santa Fe Springs Puts Wraps on Topless Bar : Regulations: After 24 years, saloon's entertainment license is suspended following the arrests of 6 employees on suspicion of selling or possessing drugs.


SANTA FE SPRINGS — City Manager Don Powell has temporarily stopped topless dancing at the Cat Patch.

Powell suspended the well-known bar's entertainment license Thursday, alleging repeated violations of the city's health, fire, building and property-maintenance codes.

His action represents a triumph for city officials who have long sought to turn out the lights on the topless showcase, which had been open for 24 years.

At a public hearing he called on the issue, Powell also alleged that the bar's management tolerated an environment in which drug and alcohol abuse proliferated.

As evidence, Powell cited an undercover Sheriff's Department investigation that resulted in the September arrests of six Cat Patch workers on suspicion of selling or possessing illegal drugs.

Owner John Marsh defended his management, saying his policy is to fire workers found to be involved with drugs or other illegal acts. In addition, "all of the health department violations have been corrected," he said, adding that all the other problems would also be addressed if the city gave him a chance.

In his one concession to Marsh, Powell agreed to continue the hearing until Oct. 18 to give the owner more time to prepare a defense. He denied Marsh's request to allow topless dancing to continue in the interim.

Marsh complained that the results of the hearing were practically a foregone conclusion.

"If you ever get an invitation to your own hanging, RSVP, refuse," he said afterward.

Powell had officially opposed the bar and was not an impartial arbiter for the proceeding, argued Robert C. Moest, Marsh's attorney. A Santa Fe Springs ordinance provides for the city manager to preside at such hearings, and Powell elected not to disqualify himself.

Moest said he will probably file a temporary restraining order next week that, if granted, would permit the bar to operate as before.

"Our view," he said, "is that the Santa Fe Springs city manager has too much discretion. Our view is that the adult-entertainment ordinance is unconstitutional."

Under that 1979 ordinance, a topless bar cannot legally operate within 500 feet of a residential area, which would shut down adult entertainment at the Cat Patch.

But Marsh challenged the ordinance. He and the city negotiated a settlement in 1986, when Marsh agreed to end topless dancing at the Cat Patch by Jan. 31, 1991.

The city has not acted on Marsh's subsequent requests to extend that deadline.

Officials went after the entertainment permit even though topless dancing is scheduled to end in three months. Conditions at the bar were too unsavory to wait, Planning Director Robert Orpin said.

"We feel it should be closed right now, at least the entertainment permit," he said. "They can stay open as a bar or even a 7-Eleven."

Specific violations included operating dirty electrical motors, allowing garbage to accumulate under the stage, having an unscreened rooftop air-conditioning unit and a trash- and weed-filled parking lot. Inspectors also noted missing toilet seats and cockroach infestation.

But the problems do not end there. There have been 96 investigations involving incidents at the Cat Patch in the last three years, officers from the Norwalk sheriff's station said. These incidents included alleged drug and alcohol abuse and nine alleged assaults.

On cross-examination, officers could not provide information about how many of these investigations led to charges being filed or to convictions. Nor could they say whether these incidents happened inside or outside the bar.

Marsh said he welcomed the officers' presence in the parking lot, where criminal activity could take place beyond his direct control.

Powell also heard testimony from the manager of a nearby apartment complex. Linda Burleson said she has problems keeping her apartments rented and her tenants safe and undisturbed because of the bar.

A Pioneer High School student testified that the bar is a bad influence and a hazard to children. "It doesn't look pleasant," said John Hansen, 16. "I feel it's dangerous to walk through there at almost any time of day. Students do walk that way. I would say it's a great number.

"I'm sure you know we're trying to fight drug problems in the high school," he said.

Marsh countered that his operation contributed positively to the lives of his employees, who could not hope to earn comparable pay elsewhere.

One waitress is working her way through college as a topless dancer, he said.

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