Bill Bledsoe drives through his west Long Beach neighborhood, cringing as he passes the two X-rated bookstores and the racy topless bar packed with customers.
Bledsoe worries about other adult businesses creeping in along Pacific Coast Highway just blocks from his home--further eroding an area plagued by prostitution and other crime. "Trash breeds trash," he says with a snarl.
Like many of his neighbors, Bledsoe wants to see the pornographic haunts run out of town.
To his dismay, the city must make room for more.
Long Beach and cities across southeast Los Angeles County are reluctantly planning to loosen their zoning laws on adult businesses so the measures will stand up in court.
For years, the cities used laws to keep adult establishments away from churches, schools, homes and parks. In Long Beach, officials earmarked the port, the airport and oil fields for adult entertainment. But court rulings, including a recent federal appeals court decision, have declared such areas commercially unsuitable.
Now, elected officials find themselves in a no-win situation. If they don't provide the businesses new, acceptable places to operate, their cities could face costly legal battles with little hope of winning. But if the officials pass laws that more loosely regulate adult entertainment, they will face irate constituents such as Bledsoe.
"It boils down to who's right--residents who own homes in the community or a bad element that wants in," said Bledsoe, 64, president of the West Long Beach Assn., and a lay leader of a church in nearby Paramount. "Why should my standard of living be violated by sleazy entertainment simply because they want to express themselves?"
Officials are considering the scaled-back laws in the wake of a federal appeals court ruling last year that stopped Los Angeles from enforcing its law against a group of adult businesses.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the city's ordinance--which required all adult establishments either to move into specific areas or shut down--failed to provide enough suitable locations. Los Angeles had listed Los Angeles International Airport, the port and oil refineries as potential sites for adult businesses.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, leaving the appeals court ruling as the final authority for cities in California.
Most southeast Los Angeles County cities have few--if any--adult establishments. Yet the very thought of topless bars opening down the street from playgrounds and schoolyards has sent officials scrambling to draft more flexible laws.
Earlier this year, Hawaiian Gardens decided to review its ordinance after the owner of a club that features nude dancers sued the city. Officials had closed the club for violating its adult-business law.
In Cerritos, where there is no adult entertainment, the City Council has enacted a 45-day ban on business licenses for such establishments so its staff can write a law. Whittier, which has lost a costly court battle over its adult-business ordinance, recently adopted a new measure. In Lakewood, the Planning Commission expects to review its community's rules next month.
"We don't have any adult businesses and we don't want any," Lakewood spokesman Don Waldie said with a note of irritation.
But it is in Long Beach where the issue is most contentious.
The city is facing lawsuits by the operator of the city's lone topless club and a group of adult bookstores. In both cases, the businesses allege that the city violates their rights of free expression because it does not offer enough viable places to operate--effectively forcing them out of town.
Neighborhood associations and business groups, meanwhile, have attacked the city's move to weaken its law. From the gritty neighborhoods on the westside to the upscale enclaves on the eastside, groups have flooded council members with phone calls and letters blasting the proposed changes.
"We need to fight this rip-off of the citizens of Long Beach with the toughest ordinance we can sustain before the courts," said Bill Niemeyer, president of the Lakewood Village Residents Assn. in east Long Beach.
The City Council is considering a number of proposals that will alter its zoning law for adult businesses.
One plan, recommended by the city's attorneys and Planning Commission, would reduce the required distance between adult businesses and residential areas from the current 500 feet to 200 feet--less than a city block. A 1,000-foot "buffer" between adult establishments and churches and parks would be eliminated.
But City Council members have balked, saying the proposal would go too far. Several also objected to a proposal to exclude adult businesses from downtown, saying all parts of the city should shoulder the burden of the new law.
Last week, the council placed a moratorium on all permits for adult businesses--even though none are currently in the pipeline--until the matter comes up again at the Oct. 11 meeting.