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Strip Club Law Stalls

Council sends proposed ban on lap dancing back to committee for further study after colorful testimony from strippers and owners.

June 19, 2003|Matea Gold and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles City Council balked Wednesday at passing a proposal to ban lap dancing at strip clubs, instead sending the proposed ordinance back to committee for further study to ensure that the law would be constitutional and enforceable.

The council's action was applauded by strippers and club owners who have argued that the new policy would put them out of business. The ordinance would require dancers to stay at least six feet from customers. It also would prohibit direct tipping and the use of private "VIP" rooms in clubs with full nudity, an activity described as the most lucrative aspect of stripping.

"It was the right thing to do," said Joan Urrutia, a San Fernando Valley resident who owns two strip clubs. She told the council that her 360 employees and their 82 children would "all be negatively impacted by this crippling ordinance."

Residents who live near strip clubs expressed disappointment, saying the additional measures are necessary to crack down on prostitution and other behavior that they say is eroding the quality of life in their neighborhoods. But they held out hope that the ordinance would eventually pass.

"We are in the right," said Cristi Walden, a West Los Angeles resident who counts 10 adult businesses near her home.

The council's 9-5 vote to study the ordinance further came after more than an hour of colorful debate that featured pleading strippers and frequent invocation of the 1st Amendment. Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who proposed the measure, told her colleagues that the new law was necessary because the city has been unable to control adult businesses through zoning laws that restrict where the clubs can operate. The proposed ordinance would tighten the requirements for strip clubs to receive permits.

"This was a way that it could be done, and I think we ought not to balk at it," she said.

Under the law, club owners would have to renew 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.

But Councilwoman Jan Perry questioned whether officials would be able to implement requirements like a 6-foot space between dancers and customers.

"I don't want to go forward with something that is unenforceable," said Perry, who voted for the ordinance when it was before the Public Safety Committee last week. On Wednesday, she proposed sending it back to committee.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former police chief, said law enforcement officials need the additional rules to crack down on behavior inside the clubs. He said that simply regulating where the clubs can be located would not help.

"I think the last thing we want to do is create a red-light district," said Parks, who voted against further study of the law.

Residents urged the council to pass the ordinance, complaining that they frequently witness public sex and other lewd behavior near the clubs.

Silvia Nickel, president of the Westside Residents Assn., said she and others are not trying to be "moral custodians."

"We are simply ordinary citizens fighting for our neighborhoods," she said.

But strip club representatives said the law would be unconstitutional and would put thousands of people out of work. Brad Barnes, head of Xposed and the Wet Spot, two clubs in Canoga Park, said club owners are planning a publicity campaign to fight the law. More than $200,000 has been spent on banners that would soon be posted at clubs, hotels and restaurants throughout the city.

"This ordinance will be devastating to our industry," said Michael Criddle, who owns two clubs in North Hollywood.

Lorraine Godinez, the manager of one of those clubs, said many strippers are single women who rely on the large tips from lap dances and VIP rooms to support their children.

"I don't think you understand what kind of effect this will have on these women and their families," she told the council. "This is the only way they put food on their table."

That comment alarmed Councilman Ed Reyes, who said that it was disturbing that some women think that they have to strip to support themselves.

"The real sad statement here is that we, as the city, as government, have failed the people -- that they have to resort to this kind of business to make a living," Reyes said.

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