City officials call it bureaucratic fine-tuning -- a proposed ordinance banning close contact between topless dancers and customers at two Lake Forest strip clubs.
But to the dancers, bouncers and managers at Captain Cream, a freeway-close adult club in the south Orange County community, the ordinance could be a business killer.
"The idea is not regulation but elimination," said Les Hawthorne, the club's chief operating officer. "They hope the regulations would restrict the way we do our business so that they would eventually eliminate us."
The proposed ordinance would ban physical contact between entertainers and customers, such as the practice of dancers sauntering through the largely male crowd, collecting tips. It would also prohibit performers from getting within 6 feet of a patron, a rule that threatens such club staples as "table dances."
Lake Forest officials say the ordinance, which comes before the City Council on Jan. 21, is not meant to put Captain Cream or the Library, a second Lake Forest club, out of business. The intent, they say, is to eliminate activity that could lead to "secondary effects," such as prostitution or drug abuse.
Management at the Library wouldn't comment, saying it would see how such rules work out.
Dancers at Captain Cream say the city is creating a double standard.
"Are you not allowed to tip the pizza delivery guy by handing him money anymore?" said Nikki, 32, a single mother who has danced at Captain Cream for two years. "Let's make it the same for everybody."
Once the ordinance took effect, patrons would be asked to drop their tips in a jar at least 6 feet from the stage.
The dancers say the freedom to mingle with customers is what allows them to make a living in a job paid by tips only.
"I think the city is wrong," said Shoni, 37, who says she has a writing degree from Northwestern University and, like Nikki, prefers to use only her first name. "We're being singled out for the way we make our living."
Said Hawthorne, "It's like paying to go into a baseball game and then watching the game on a monitor."
One regular, downing a beer on an afternoon at Captain Cream, said the proposed ordinance shouldn't have a big effect there.
"This is a low-contact strip club anyway," he said. "Those tips they collect after the dances are almost like a tax. They come around and almost everybody gives them a dollar."
The ordinance would also require each dancer to be licensed before working in such establishments.
"I think that's discriminating," said Shoni, one of more than 100 dancers employed by Captain Cream. She said the ordinance presupposes that erotic dancing is decadent and leads to crime.
Though city officials say their intent is not to run Captain Cream or the Library out of town, they do hope to keep other adult establishments from setting up shop in Lake Forest, a quiet master-planned community of 60,000.
In drafting the ordinance, the city reviewed court cases and studied the effects of similar ordinances elsewhere. In 1999, Anaheim's no-touch rule at several nude clubs was struck down by an appeals court, which ruled that the ordinance went too far by criminalizing such actions. Lake Forest officials, though, say their proposed rules are legally sound.
"By eliminating direct contact, studies show that secondary effects are reduced," said Mark Pulone, Lake Forest's assistant city manager. "We're simply trying to eliminate problems that might occur in the future."
The Orange County Sheriff's Department said the neighborhood around Captain Cream gets, on average, the most police calls in the city. But Jon Fleischman, a department spokesman, said it's unclear what impact the new ordinance might have on law enforcement.
Hawthorne said the concern that physical contact between dancers and customers at his club might lead to prostitution or drug activity is off-target. "Just because people come together for adult entertainment doesn't mean they're interested in prostitution and drugs," he said. "The concept is that anybody who comes here is so low that they would only be interested in those things.
"The fact is that nobody here wants to get in trouble. The girls are here to earn a living.... It's like a Cheers in Lake Forest."
Nikki said she'll simply adapt if the ordinance passes. "I guess I'll just have to get used to a tip jar."