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Lap Dancing Referendum Qualifies for City Ballot

Adult business owners gather needed signatures to force a vote on new rules passed by council.

November 04, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles voters soon may get to decide for themselves whether they want lap dancing in their city.

The city clerk on Monday certified that a coalition of adult business owners had gathered enough signatures to force the Los Angeles City Council to put a referendum on the up-close form of entertainment on the ballot.

The signature-gathering drive began less than two weeks after the City Council voted in September to make patrons and dancers stay 6 feet away from each other in the city's nude and topless clubs.

Council members also voted to outlaw direct tipping of dancers, prohibited VIP rooms and partitions of any kind in public areas except restrooms, and said the clubs must hire state-licensed security guards. Violators could face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

Council members said the new regulations, which have not yet gone into effect, were needed because adult clubs were causing problems, including public sex and prostitution, in residential neighborhoods.

But club owners immediately decried the new rules, saying that they infringed upon 1st Amendment rights, and would force many of them out of business. They spent $400,000 to dispatch signature gatherers to bars, college campuses and other locations to collect more than 100,000 signatures for an initiative that would overturn the ordinance. The new law cannot go into effect until voters have their say.

Council members now have three options: repeal the new law, vote to put the matter on the next regularly scheduled city election in 2005 or add it to the Democratic presidential primary in March. The final option would cost the cash-strapped city $2.8 million. Council members have 20 days to make their decision.

But Councilman Tony Cardenas, an advocate of the ban on lap dancing, said he does not think it is a good use of city money to spend $2.8 million to put a lap dancing question on the March ballot. "I support the 6-foot ordinance, and I think if we went to voters, they would support it too," he said.

Cardenas said the city should postpone putting the new law into effect until 2005, when officials can put it on a city ballot at minimal cost.

Steven Afriat, a lobbyist for the adult businesses, said he would like to see the council back down and repeal the ban.

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