Seattle Bans Strip Club Lap Dances

SEATTLE — Imposing tight regulations that one adult club lawyer said would make strip clubs “less fun,” Seattle’s City Council voted late yesterday to require dancers at adult nightclubs to stay at least four feet from customers while dancing, and have told night club owners they must install “parking garage-style” lighting throughout their premises.

Lap dances are out. Private rooms are out. Tips go in a tip jar.

In what some consider a contradictory attitude from a city known for its liberal attitudes towards sexual freedom, the City Council voted 5-4 to approve the new rules. The new regulations follow a recent ruling by a federal judge that struck down a 17-year ban on new strip clubs in Seattle.

“It's wiping out an entire industry in Seattle,” said Gilbert Levy, a lawyer for Rick's gentleman's club, of the new regulations.

Despite their passing, however, many councilmembers had serious issues with the new regulations.

“I keep having the sense that the Council is engaged in shadow boxing with ourselves,” Councilman Nick Licata said. “Talk on the street is people would rather have us dealing with other things, and polls tend to go the opposite direction of where our gut reaction tends to be. Only a third of people in a recent poll, for example, said [the City Council] should have the right to set standards for the community.”

Licata, like many of his peers, said the real issue with adult entertainment regulation comes down to zoning.

“Most cities the size of Seattle don’t have a four-foot rule,” he said. “So the question is, ‘How do other cities wrestle with this problem?’ The answer is zoning. You place restrictions on where these places are located.”

Councilwoman Jean Godden agreed, refusing to support the legislation as a whole.

“We need to focus on protecting neighborhoods through appropriate zoning, not by telling businesses how they should operate.”

Councilman Tom Rasmussen, another dissenter, told the City Council that even the most unpopular legal businesses deserve legal treatment and protection by the Constitution, and predicted the new rules could open the city up to major legal battles.

“All of our concerns are essentially land use issues,” Rasmussen added. “I will support land use regulations, but the proposed regulations go way too far.”

Despite the objections, calls by Councilman Peter Steinbrueck and other supporters were enough to get the new rules through. The brunt of Steinbrueck’s argument for the new regulations focused on preventing illegal activity he said takes place in adult nightclubs.

“It seems to me that if there’s illegal activity occurring, and we know there has been a history of illegal activity in these places, then the patrons share responsibility for the activity there,” Steinbrueck said. “Just as the arrests and efforts to tackle prostitution include holding the ‘Johns’ responsible, this establishes a code of conduct for the patrons to keep their hands off and abstain from any illegal activity.”