In a decision that La Habra officials believe could encourage other cities, a federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a city ordinance that effectively bans lap dancing by requiring exotic performers to stay two feet from their customers.
Deborah Fox, who represented the city in its fight with the owner of Taboo Gentleman's Club, called the 3-0 ruling "really huge," since "lap dancing is the financial linchpin of the adult industry and this is the end of the argument about its prohibition."
Neither club owner Bill Gammoh nor his attorney could be reached for comment. Gammoh's fight with La Habra began shortly after he opened the city's only strip club in 1998 and filed a lawsuit challenging the city's anti-lap dance ordinance as vague and unconstitutional.
The ordinance "unfairly impedes on [a dancer's] right to expression and speech," attorney Scott Wellman argued last year. The reason La Habra enforces such strict ordinances against adult clubs, Wellman said, is that it doesn't want them in the city, and officials know the clubs can't survive without lap dances.
La Habra countered that it enacted the ordinance because the activity leads to prostitution, crime, drug use and disease.
Wednesday's ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision a lower court made last year.
"The 2-foot rule," Judge Richard Tallman wrote, "merely requires that dancers give their performances from a slight distance; it does not prohibit them from giving their performances altogether. The rule limits the dancers' freedom to convey their erotic message but does not prohibit them from performing erotic one-on-one dances for patrons."
Furthermore, the judge reasoned, "the ordinance was thoroughly researched and narrowly tailored to combat the negative side effects of adult businesses that the city's research identified" and thus is not too "vague or overbroad."
Fox said she hoped the ruling would encourage other cities to consider ordinances limiting lap dancing, many of which have been challenged.
"Jurisdictions that were reluctant to adopt lap-dancing prohibitions for fear of costly litigation will now be more confident" the law is on their side, she said.
The Los Angeles City Council briefly banned lap dancing two years ago before repealing the ordinance after opposition by the adult entertainment industry.
Fox said she would speak on the topic next month before a gathering of the League of California Cities in Newport Beach. "I think [the decision] will spur a great interest by all jurisdictions in a re-examination of the viability and financial risk of adopting lap-dance ordinances."