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New Curbs on Strip Clubs OKd

Council sends ordinance to mayor, who says he'll sign it. Adult business owners vow to fight on.

September 17, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

After months of debate, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban lap dancing and impose a host of new regulations on strip clubs and other adult businesses across the city.

Representatives of adult businesses, who argued that the new regulations would hurt them financially, vowed to fight the city in court and complained that the council was giving in to the "morality agenda."

Residents living near the adult clubs, however, were ecstatic.

"We couldn't be happier," said West Los Angeles resident Cristi Walden, who said she saw six adult businesses move into her neighborhood in the last 10 years, and complained that prostitution and public sex were destroying her quality of life.

The new ordinance also bans direct tipping of dancers and says entertainers and patrons must stay six feet away from one another. It prohibits VIP rooms and partitions of any kind in public areas except restrooms and says the clubs must hire state-licensed security guards. Violators could face a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

"I'm very pleased," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who pushed for the ordinance.

Mayor James K. Hahn said he would sign the ordinance, which could take effect within the next two months.

Proponents of the law argued that several surrounding cities have enacted strict laws for the clubs, which has led to an influx of the establishments into Los Angeles. Officials and industry representatives say there are about 45 adult clubs in the city.

"Los Angeles is the mecca for lap dances," said Deputy Police Chief James McMurray. To help persuade council members of the need for action, police officials forwarded reports over the last 18 months of incidents at adult clubs across the city. They included numerous accounts of dancers trying to sell sex to undercover officers, along with reports of fistfights and a stabbing.

"This ordinance is needed to eliminate prostitution activity," Police Capt. Vance Proctor testified to the council.

LAPD officials also said the strict new laws will make it easier for them to police strip clubs, which will free up officers to concentrate on other matters. And because adult businesses will be forced to renew their permits every year, the city now has "real teeth" when it comes to shutting down bad operators, Miscikowski said.

Throughout the months of debate, adult business owners maintained that the ordinance was unconstitutional, and that it would have a devastating effect on owners and the dancers who work in the clubs.

Several dancers testified before the council earlier this summer, insisting that lap dances do not lead to prostitution, but that the tips they receive for performing them are necessary to make ends meet.

"There was no need for this," said attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who represents many of the clubs. "This affects a woman's right to choose her profession. A lot of these dancers are single women supporting their children, putting themselves through school. I think this is overkill."

In 1999, a state appeals court overturned an Anaheim ordinance banning lap dancing, ruling that the law was preempted by the state penal code, which already outlaws prostitution and lewd conduct.

"We're going to sue the city," said Steve Afriat, a lobbyist who represents many of the Los Angeles club owners. "Basically, the council is bowing to the morality agenda of certain homeowners."

But city officials noted that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law passed by a city in Washington state requiring dancers to stay 10 feet from patrons.

"I expect we will be challenged in court," said Councilman Tony Cardenas. But he added that, as a father trying to teach his sons to be gentlemen, he believes the city is doing the right thing.

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