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L.A. learns the perils of regulating porn

April 18, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Former adult film industry performers Madelyne Hernandez, left, and Shelley Lubben chat as Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation president, addresses a small crowd in 2010 about mandating that pornography actors use condoms.
Former adult film industry performers Madelyne Hernandez, left, and Shelley… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

So which is more important, porn actors’ safety -- or the jobs, fees and tax money the porn industry provides?

Los Angeles County voters decided on the former in November when they passed Measure B, requiring the use of condoms during film productions. Now, though, it appears that the adult film industry is voting with its stiletto-clad feet and leaving Los Angeles for condom-free filming locations.

As my colleague Kurt Streeter reported:

Only two permits have been issued for pornographic filming so far this year, far off the usual pace for an industry that typically [applies] for about 500 permits annually, said Paul Audley, president of FilmLA, a nonprofit organization that oversees permitting throughout L.A. County.

Thus far, L.A.’s loss appears to be Ventura County’s gain. Though some there are learning quickly some of the downsides of the adult-film industry. As Streeter writes:

"It's really disturbing," said Tim Gray, a 56-year-old father of four. "We were eating dinner and we heard these loud sounds outside, like something really bad had happened. I went outside and heard, well, the typical sounds you'd hear in a porn movie. It was echoing all over the neighborhood. Later I asked my daughter if she heard it. She said, 'Yeah, I was doing my homework and I just turned up the music to drown it out.' "

Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks said that since Measure B passed in L.A. County she has been getting emails and phone calls from constituents upset by an uptick in porn shoots. She said the constituents aren't just hearing "moans and groans" from nearby houses, they're "seeing naked people."

(Now, I’ll let Gray explain to his wife and kids how he knows “the typical sounds you'd hear in a porn movie,” and I’ll give Parks the benefit of the doubt that the "moans and groans" and the "naked people" are the result of porn shoots and not just a few frisky Ventura County residents.)

The question, then, is did Los Angeles shoot itself in the foot, financially speaking, by trying to do the right thing, healthwise?

Clearly, the answer is yes. And it shows the pitfalls of trying to deal piecemeal with such issues. And it shows that there are better ways to regulate than through ballot-box initiatives.

Is it safer for adult film actors to use condoms? Sure.

Did the industry want this restriction? No.

And the industry is mobile. It can just pick up and move -- and apparently that’s just what it is doing. So, unless everyone adopts the condom restriction, L.A.’s gesture becomes mostly symbolic. And financially shortsighted.

I’m not in favor of putting people’s health at risk. But I’m also not in favor of symbolic legislation. The truth is, the porn industry exists, and it provides jobs and revenue at a time when we need both. Or, to quote Joni Mitchell: "Don't it always seem to go. That you don't know what you've got. Till it's gone."

Short of dumping Measure B, though, the only way out at this point appears to be a U.S. District Court lawsuit that challenges the measure on free-speech grounds.

I’m not sure the Founding Fathers envisioned the 1st Amendment protecting naked people having sex on screen, but their wisdom in crafting the Constitution may be L.A.’s best hope for recapturing the adult film business. And for protecting the delicate eyes and ears of residents in Ventura County.

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