Proposed Los Angeles Adult-Zoning Ordinance Gains Speed

Rhett Pardon

LOS ANGELES — A proposed ordinance that would prevent future adult entertainment or adult-oriented uses in four large corridors of the San Fernando Valley is moving forward.

The ban on future adult businesses gained speed after three City of Los Angeles neighborhood councils in the area — the North Hollywood North East Neighborhood Council, the Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council and the Encino Neighborhood Council — all voted unanimously for the planned interim ordinance.

The targeted streets in the San Fernando Valley include stretches of Lankershim Boulevard, Sepulveda Boulevard and San Fernando Road, as well as Oxnard Street.

The Encino Neighborhood Council, in a letter to City Council, also recommended expanding the proposal past its original area to nearly all of Sepulveda Boulevard.

The interim ordinance that is being prepared by the city attorney and the city's planning department would affect future businesses looking to locate in the proposed areas — all considered as part of so-called Porn Valley.

The proposed ordinance, primarily targeting future nude and topless gentlemens clubs, also focuses on massage parlors, dance clubs, liquor stores and now motels. Depending on interpretation, the ordinance could extend to other adult-oriented businesses.

Existing businesses would be allowed to stay open, but the restrictions wouldn't allow planning department permits for new such businesses there.  

Industry attorney Clyde DeWitt said that the proposal, authored by Councilwoman Nury Martinez, has all the earmarks of a "classic NIMBY" — not in my backyard — proposal. 

"Now that Los Angeles has local councils, they all want businesses that they consider undesirable to be elsewhere," DeWitt told XBIZ.

DeWitt explained that the problem with adult-oriented outlets emanates from the fact that most of Los Angeles is “strip zoned.” 

"That means that the arterial streets, which I think these are, are lined with commercially zoned parcels with residentially zoned parcels immediately behind them," he said. "The effect of that is to prohibit adult uses along most of  the arterials because of proximity to residential zones.

"Another issue arises from the fact that the market for adult video stores isn’t what it was, mostly due to Internet piracy," he said. "Rather, the demand is mostly for adult cabarets and so-called 'love boutiques,' which generally do not carry enough sexually oriented products to qualify as adult businesses. 

"The difficulty for adult cabarets is exacerbated by the fact that they require large buildings with substantial parking and considerable investment in tenant improvements. Parking is a particular problem because, 25-or-so years back, Los Angeles profoundly increased the off-street parking requirements. If the use is changed, the new requirements kick in. Parking makes development in Los Angeles difficult enough for any business; much worse for adult cabarets."

DeWitt noted that there has been court precedent for those existing adult businesses that have faced NIMBY challenges in the region.

"In 1991, the U.S. District Court enjoined enforcement of Los Angeles’ adult zoning ordinance against roughly 100 existing businesses, finding a probability of success on the merits of the claim that there existed an insufficient number of legal locations to withstand the plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenge," he said. 

DeWitt said that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the case inTopanga Press vs. City of Los Angeles and that a settlement ensued that allowed the existing businesses to remain.

New adult-oriented businesses, however, are another story, he said.

"While I have been successful in helping clients establish new adult businesses over the years in a number of locations, it isn’t easy," DeWitt said.

City spokeswoman Linda M. Serrato-Ybarra, who represents Martinez's district, told XBIZ it was uncertain when city council would vote on the issue.