Nickels Declares War on Strip Clubs
The city's "temporary" strip-club moratorium, renewed by the city council every year since 1988, could soon be undone by a lawsuit that charges the de facto ban unfairly targets a single, legal industry ["Naked City," Erica C. Barnett, March 17]. Last week, in a preemptive strike against the strip-club industry, Mayor Greg Nickels proposed a slate of new regulations that together would eliminate most of the economic incentive for opening strip clubs in Seattle.
The new rules, which Nickels unveiled last Thursday, would, among other changes, require lighting bright enough to make "all objects" clearly visible; prohibit strippers from taking tips directly ("tips for dancers must be placed in a container provided by the club"); and impose "a four-foot rule for lap dances," according to the mayor's paradoxical press release. Under the new regulations, strip-club owners and managers would be directly responsible for any violations of the law.
"We're trying to prohibit illicit behavior," Nickels spokesman Marty McOmber says. "Frankly, there's a court case out there, and if we lose that court case, our neighborhoods would be vulnerable."
In a statement, Nickels said he proposed the legislation because "I don't want strip clubs opening up in our neighborhoods... As a city, we have a clear duty to protect our neighborhoods from activities that aren't appropriate near homes, schools, and churches." On Monday, the Seattle Times chimed in, editorializing that without the new rules, "there is the prospect of new clubs popping up in every vacant restaurant and storefront."
To listen to the rhetoric coming out of the mayor's office and the morality police at the Times, you'd think Seattle was being overrun by hundreds of wannabe strip-club owners. But the truth is, until former comedy club owner Bob Davis filed his $5 million claim against the city, no one had so much as challenged the moratorium—much less attempted to open a strip club. (On Monday, Davis said he couldn't comment on the legislation while his lawsuit remained pending in federal court, adding, "obviously, I disagree with the mayor's ideas" about strip clubs.)
Reading the proposed legislation, it's hard to see how the city's four existing strip clubs could survive such a dramatic regulatory overhaul. And that, some speculate, is exactly the point. "There's no question that these folks will go out of business," one council staffer said Friday. McOmber, unsurprisingly, denies the mayor's legislation targets existing strip clubs. "Obviously, this is going to take away some economic incentive to open up strip clubs," he says. However, he adds, "our intention is not to put anyone out of business. It's to bring Seattle in line with other places"—suburbs and smaller cities like Bellevue, Tacoma, and Kent, where courts have upheld similar regulations.
The new rules, incidentally, would do absolutely nothing to keep strip clubs away from "churches, homes, and schools"—the issue that has Nickels's office in such a purported frenzy. Instead, Nickels wants to put off that question until later this fall, when he'll propose a new set of zoning rules aimed at keeping adult businesses away from churches, schools, and residential areas.
On Friday, several theories were circulating on the council floor about why the mayor sent his strip-club legislation to the council now, rather than waiting to see what happened with Davis's lawsuit. Some speculated that the mayor wanted to hand a red-meat issue to conservative candidate Casey Corr, a former Nickels staffer who jumped into the race for Jan Drago's seat on Friday.
Two years ago, when then-council-incumbent Margaret Pageler proposed a similar "four-foot rule" for strip clubs, she got laughed off the council dais. This time, in the wake of the 2003 election, in which campaign donations from strip-club owners and employees contributed to the political demise of at least two council incumbents, no one is laughing. In an informal poll, several council members expressed reservations about the usefulness of Nickels's legislation, but said they would probably vote for it anyway. Nickels's zoning changes will likely find a similarly friendly reception when they reach the council floor this fall.
Let's say, hypothetically, that Nickels's legislation does push strip clubs out of business. Since strip clubs are located in large venues with stages, it seems logical that bars or clubs would open in their place. Would residents of neighborhoods like Northgate, who now complain about disorderly behavior near clubs like Rick's (which can't legally serve alcohol), be willing to accept the drunken behavior that occurs near bars? If the council goes ahead with Nickels's anti-strip-club agenda, we may soon find out. ■