L.A. Proposal Could Doom Lap Dancing

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles City Council panel will weigh another attempt to further regulate adult cabarets with a proposed ordinance that would outlaw direct tipping and effectively end the practice of nude or near-nude dancers writhing in customers’ laps.

The measure, which could have the effect of dooming more than three dozen adult cabarets in the city that would have to adhere to a “six-foot rule,” may have a good shot at passing after a failed attempt several years ago. It also would limit performances only to raised stages with rails.

“You are not regulating dance, you are regulating physical contact,” Assistant City Attorney Michael Klekner told the city’s Police Commission. “That is conduct that is not protected … by the Constitution.”

The Police Commission earlier this week voted for the ordinance and passed it to the council’s Public Safety Committee, which has not yet scheduled a future meeting.

The LAPD has long sought the change, claiming the existing ordinance — officially known as Sec. 103.102.1 — is insufficient and difficult to enforce.

LAPD Det. Ben Jones told police commissioners that the ordinance is needed because some adult dance halls are hotbeds of prostitution and other crimes. He told of officers arriving at the cabarets to find used condoms littering the floors.

The law, as it stands, allows a dancer, “to go into a dark corner with a patron and sit on his lap, and for him to grab her buttocks and move up and down and there is no way to know if there is prostitution going on unless we go up to them and separate them.”

The current measure would require patrons to remain at least six feet away from exotic dancers, who would be limited to performing only on raised stages with rails.

Attorney John Weston of the West Los Angeles law firm Weston, Garrou and DeWitt, who represents nearly 20 adult cabaret operators who are fighting the proposed ordinance, called the measure unnecessary and predicted it would waste precious police resources.

“If there’s prostitution, arrest those involved,” Weston told the Police Commission. “This is a city of 3½ million people; surely you can have room for diversity in the laws.”

The city passed a similar measure in 2003 but was challenged by opponents, who filed a petition for a voter-referendum aimed at overturning the new rules. But the council opted to repeal a rule requiring patrons to keep their distance from dancers after the challenge.

What was left on the books was a pared-down version of the original ordinance that outlawed VIP rooms and set standards for security guards but allowed lap dancing. Skin-to-skin touching between dancers and patrons had been illegal, and remains so.

The current proposal, authored by Councilman Tony Cardenas, comes in the wake of a January federal appeals court opinion.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that La Habra, Calif.’s ordinance requiring dancers to remain at least two feet away from patrons during lap dances and prohibiting physical contact between dancers and patrons in adult cabarets did not violate constitutionally protected freedom of speech and expression.

The 9th Circuit affirmed a dismissal of claims by adult cabaret operator Bill Badi Gammoh and several dancers that the ordinance was vague and overbroad. The court granted summary judgment to the city of La Habra on the issues of freedom of speech and expression and also rejected the contention that the ordinance accomplished a regulatory taking.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, a group of adult cabaret owners and supporters announced Thursday a referendum campaign to try to overturn new rules passed by City Council. The group hopes to gather nearly 14,000 signatures on petitions to put the question before voters next year.

Seattle’s new ordinance imposes some of the strictest rules for adult cabarets among the U.S.’s large cities It requires dancers to stay four feet from patrons and forces clubs to install bright lighting and waist-high railings in front of their stages.

“I don’t think the ordinance that just got passed by the council is popular with the citizens of Seattle, and I think they should be given a chance to decide for themselves whether they want it or not,” attorney Gil Levy said.