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Activists Seek to Reverse Lap Dancing Ban in L.A.

A push is launched for a referendum to overturn an ordinance passed recently by the City Council. Some council members are outraged.

October 01, 2003|Jessica Garrison and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

Less than two weeks after the Los Angeles City Council banned lap dancing, advocates of the up-close form of entertainment are appealing to voters to overturn the law.

In papers filed with the city clerk, those advocates seek to put a referendum on the ballot. To do that, they must gather nearly 57,000 signatures by Oct. 25.

If they succeed, the council must either repeal the ban or schedule an election, possibly in March at the same time as the Democratic presidential primary.

City Hall lobbyist Steven Afriat, campaign manager for the referendum, said adult businesses believe they can prevail and cited a poll they conducted which found that most respondents had little interest in regulating adult business.

"We think the only people who care about this is a dozen homeowners ... perpetrating their moral agenda on the rest of the city," Afriat said.

The campaign is prepared to spend more than $100,000 to get the referendum on the ballot, he said. But he also said customers at adult clubs have been lining up to sign the petition in recent days.

Several council members expressed outrage at the effort.

"This city has serious issues, and lap dances are not one of them," Councilman Martin Ludlow said.

Councilman Tony Cardenas said he plans a campaign to make sure his constituents understand what they are asked to sign.

"I can just imagine what they're going to be telling people in front of supermarkets," he said.

The petition asks voters to sign a statement asking "that ordinance number 175471 be entirely repealed by the City Council or otherwise be submitted to a vote of the people." It makes no mention of lap dancing.

After months of debate, council members voted unanimously Sept. 16 to require that dancers and patrons stay 6 feet from each other in strip clubs and other adult businesses.

The law, which has not yet taken effect, also bans direct tipping and VIP rooms and requires clubs to hire state-licensed security guards.

Council members said the new rules were necessary because the clubs were causing problems in residential neighborhoods, including prostitution and public sex.

Officials also argued that because several surrounding cities already had banned lap dancing, Los Angeles was becoming a hot spot for it.

Afriat said the ban's opponents' "message to the voters is that the Los Angeles City Council has for some reason chosen to go down a path toward regulating the private activity of consenting adults, and that is a dangerous direction."

The opponents of the lap-dance ban hope that the City Council will rescind the ordinance if the referendum qualifies to avoid the large expense of holding a special election, Afriat said. But, if the measure goes on the ballot, opponents of the ban said, they think they have a convincing argument.

The campaign also will argue that during times of city budget problems, it is inappropriate to divert scarce police resources to enforcing a ban on lap dancing, Afriat said.

If it comes to a vote, City Councilman Greig Smith said, he will campaign against it.

"They are going to be blown away by the voters," Smith predicted. "I can't imagine a majority of the voters [deciding] to repeal this ordinance."

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