Seattle Adult Industry Fights Back

Matt O'Conner
SEATTLE — Seattle Citizens for Free Speech has collected more than enough signatures to call for a ballot referendum to repeal controversial restrictions on adult entertainment establishments.

The group, which represents strip clubs affected by the city’s strict “code of conduct,” says voters should get to decide whether they think the new rules are necessary — and at least 27,000 Seattle residents who signed the petition agree. On Monday, Seattle Citizens for Free Speech’s Timothy Killian submitted the signatures to the City Clerk’s Office. He said another 5,000 are on the way.

Passed last month by a 5-4 vote, the code calls for “parking garage-style” lights in the clubs, tip jars rather than handing money directly to dancers and a four-foot distance between dancers and patrons. Lawyers for several clubs say the rules were aimed at putting their clients out of business. They say two clubs already have gone belly up since the stricter laws were enacted.

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

Seattle Citizens for Free Speech also said it was no coincidence that the rules were approved just weeks after a federal judge lifted a 17-year ban on new strip clubs in the city.

Seattle now must decide whether to put the vote to the people next spring or wait until the fall. Despite the harm the restrictions are doing to strip clubs, Levy said he would prefer waiting until the fall so that Seattle Citizens for Free Speech would have more time to educate the public about the issue.

Council members in favor of the restrictions used the “secondary-effects” argument that has become popular among anti-adult advocates, claiming that strip clubs contribute to crime in the neighborhoods they are located in.

However, Levy pointed out that there is no empirical data to support that claim, while there is hard evidence that businesses that serve alcohol are magnets for crime. Seattle’s strip clubs do not serve alcohol.

Similarly, Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who voted against the new rules, 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 said. “I will support land use regulations, but the proposed regulations go way too far.”