City Can’t Toss Strip Club Out of Mall — U.S. Judge

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES — In an order last week, a federal judge ruled that the Southern California city of Pico Rivera cannot bar the Imperial Showgirls strip club from operating in a local mini-mall because there are no other locations within the city in which it could effectively do business.

The owners of the club challenged an ordinance that barred adult entertainment business outside the city's commercial manufacturing zone and within 1,000 feet of any residential property, church, school or park.

Imperial Showgirls opened in January 2002, but city officials ordered it closed within days of the opening. The strip club then sued the city, claiming the ordinance violated their free-speech rights and gave them no options for relocating their business.

U.S. District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian, who ruled on the matter last week, issued a preliminary injunction in 2002 prohibiting Pico Rivera from forcing the club to comply with its ordinance. Last week’s ruling essentially upholds the 2002 injunction.

Attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who represented Imperial Showgirls, said that the reason the strip club won was because no other property in the city qualified.

“Every property was within 1,000 feet of homes,” Diamond said.

Imperial Showgirls currently is housed in a mini-mall near a McDonald's restaurant, a doughnut shop and beauty salon and has a lease that extends through 2007.

During the five-day trial last month, city officials sought to show that there were several viable locations for Imperial Showgirls to move to within the city's “commercial manufacturing” zone, about two blocks from the club's present location in a “commercial general” zone. But city officials later conceded that there are currently no vacant properties within that zone.

Tevrizian said that of 20 potential sites identified by the parties in the commercial manufacturing zone, “there are no existing structures that can accommodate plaintiffs’ use as an adult cabaret theater.”

“At a minimum, there must be more sites available than existing businesses with a demand for them,” Tevrizian said. The lack of “any site” that will accommodate the plaintiff under the current city ordinance, the judge noted, “is unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional” and would have violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The federal judge noted that Pico Rivera is less than eight square miles in area and only has seven acres of land zoned for commercial manufacturing. The ordinance also prohibits locating an adult business within 1,000 feet of a church, school, or public park, even if it is in the commercial manufacturing zone.

It is the second legal victory won by Imperial Showgirls in its bid to continue operating over the objection of some local residents and officials. A state appeal court decided last year that a local pastor and members of his church did not have a constitutional right to continue picketing in front of the business. Those protests turned violent.

The decision by Tevrizian was disappointing for the city, according to Pico Rivera City Attorney James Casso. The city spent upwards of $200,000 in legal fees fighting the club and must pay Imperial Showgirls’ legal fees as well.

The injunction allows Imperial Showgirls to operate at the current location until March 31, 2007, when its lease will expire. The ruling does not permit similar businesses to set up in the area.