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Long Beach to Ease Adult Business Reins : Laws: New zoning would allow topless clubs and other establishments to operate closer to homes, churches and parks.

October 13, 1994|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A reluctant Long Beach City Council this week loosened its law regulating adult businesses.

Council members tentatively approved a new zoning ordinance that will allow topless clubs and other racy establishments to operate closer to homes, churches and parks. Council members said they had little choice because recent court decisions have thrown the city's existing law into doubt.

In two separate lawsuits against the city, judges have said the original law may be unconstitutional because it fails to provide enough suitable commercial areas for adult businesses. Among the locations now earmarked for adult entertainment are Long Beach airport, oil fields and the city's port.

A similar law in Los Angeles was struck down last year by a federal appeals court, which ruled that it failed to offer enough viable alternatives.

Concerned Long Beach residents have flooded council offices with calls in recent weeks. But city officials said the new law will continue to maintain buffer zones between adult businesses and neighborhoods. "This is the best compromise that still protects schools, parks, churches and homes," Mayor Beverly O'Neill said after the council vote.

The council reduced the buffer area between adult businesses and churches from 1,000 feet to 500 feet. The distance between adult establishments and residential areas was cut from 500 to 300 feet. The distance between adult establishments and parks dropped from 1,000 to 600 feet. By cutting the buffers, officials were able to free up additional commercial areas for adult businesses.

The changes, which will come up for final approval next Tuesday, will take effect a month later.

The council also extended a moratorium on all permits for adult businesses, even though none are currently in the pipeline, until Dec. 1.

Reaction to the new law was mixed among neighborhood associations and business groups in the city. Some residents said they understand the city's predicament, but others said they hoped officials would stand firm on the original law.

Some downtown businesses in particular were angry that a portion of their area was included in newly drawn adult-entertainment zones. The business owners and some downtown-area council members argued that downtown should have been protected against any adult businesses because of the city's multimillion-dollar revitalization effort there.

"We need to protect our investment," said Councilwoman Jenny Oropeza. "Pine Avenue is vulnerable to this type of business. We have invested millions in trying to clear up this area. Let us not undercut that investment."

Adult business owners and their lawyers, meanwhile, expressed concern over the new law, which would require the city's five adult bookstores to relocate within 18 months. In a lawsuit, the bookstores contend that the existing law has not provided enough viable locations to move.

"We're going to take a very close look at the new map and see what this extra space really means," said David Brown, an attorney representing the bookstores. "Is it space that really can be used or is it an illusion?

Under the law, the city's lone topless club, Angels in West Long Beach, would have to stop offering topless entertainment or move, said Deputy City Atty. Heather Mahood. Angels is too close to a residential zone.

Renee Vicary, owner of Angels, obtained a preliminary injunction in July that barred the city from stopping topless dancing at the club, but Mahood said the injunction would not be valid after the new law takes effect.

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