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New Limits on Strip Clubs Go to Council

Panel approves a ban on lap dancing, any other contact between patrons and entertainers. Adult businesses say measure is unconstitutional.

June 10, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

Lap dancing and entertaining in private "VIP rooms" would be banned at Los Angeles strip clubs under an ordinance approved Monday by a City Council's committee.

If approved by the City Council and mayor, the ordinance also would prohibit direct tipping and any physical contact between strippers and customers. It would require them to remain at least six feet apart.

"This will clean up the industry," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, chairwoman of the council's Public Safety Committee, who proposed the measure aimed at curbing prostitution and other crime associated with the clubs.

But the ordinance was immediately criticized by representatives of adult businesses as unconstitutional.

"Do we want a society where we're so controlled that we cannot do anything at all, that we can't move in one direction or another?" asked Roger Jon Diamond, a Santa Monica attorney who represents about 25 adult clubs in Los Angeles and who compared the law with prohibitions enacted by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"What is the city next going to do, say you can't go to a teacher to be taught ballroom dancing?" Diamond asked.

Under the new law, club owners would have to renew their police permits annually to ensure that they had not violated any regulations. A violator of the measure, which includes civil and criminal provisions, would face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

Local ordinances outlawing so-called lap dancing have fared poorly in state courts. In 1999, the state's 4th Appellate District overturned an Anaheim ordinance on the basis that the law was preempted by the state penal code, which outlaws prostitution and lewd conduct.

Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Asha Greenberg said that although the city expects adult businesses to fight the measure, she is confident that the new law will not be overturned. She said that, in 1998, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a local ordinance in Washington state that requires dancers to stay 10 feet from patrons.

"We have tried to research the law and support everything we put in it," she said.

The proposed ordinance was cheered by residents who have complained that the activity inside strip clubs spills into their neighborhoods.

A West Los Angeles resident, Cristi Walden, said six adult businesses have opened in her neighborhood in the last 10 years, including two clubs with total nudity, all within a radius of three-quarters of a mile. In the last few months, police have made six prostitution arrests in the area, she said. Neighbors regularly find used condoms near the clubs and witness public sex.

"It's ridiculous," Walden said. "People have just had it."

But industry lobbyists and strippers said the measure would cripple the industry by prohibiting the most lucrative activity at the clubs. On Monday morning, dancers from a North Hollywood nude club told the Public Safety Committee that they make the bulk of their money from lap dances and entertaining customers in private rooms.

"Solely being on stage on a platform, I would not survive," said a 36-year-old stripper and actor, who asked that her name not be published for fear that disclosure would hurt her ability to get other jobs.

"I hope this doesn't go into effect, because I don't know what I'd do," she said.

A 23-year-old dancer told the council committee that the six-foot rule would make the environment "very impersonal."

"I can put on one heck of a show, let me tell you," said the stripper, who also did not want to be identified. "I'm fabulous .... But it's not going to give me revenue."

She insisted that activity inside the club is limited to "hugs." One of her customers, an 85-year-old widower, comes in several times a month and lies down with her on a bed in the VIP room, she said.

"We cuddle," she said. "You should be able to reach out to somebody when they're needy."

There are currently few restrictions on adult businesses in Los Angeles. Clubs that have full nudity cannot serve alcohol, and there are regulations about how close a venue can be to a school or playground.

But officials said they have been unable to curb illegal activities inside the clubs, because those activities take place in private rooms.

"It's gotten to the point where the police are saying there's blatant prostitution" in the strip clubs, Greenberg said.

Among other measures, the law would eliminate private rooms and require the presence of a full-time manager and security guard at all times.

Undercover officers could make an arrest if they see a dancer sit on a patron's lap.

Representatives of the adult business industry argued that the city should seek to regulate the clubs through zoning laws, not by restricting behavior inside the club.

Lobbyist Steve Afriat, representing a chain of eight clubs, told the Public Safety Committee that it would be opening a Pandora's box with the new law.

"I would question whether this City Council really wants to go down a path of regulating what takes place inside," he said.

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Times staff writer Monte Morin contributed to this report.

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