The blonde in the pleated white ultra-mini skirt—it doesn't come down far enough to cover her ass—notices that I'm taking notes. She's sitting at the table in front of me. Well, actually she's sitting on a guy's lap at the table in front of me, facing me.
"What are you writing about?" she shouts to me (and unintentionally into the ear of the guy getting the lap dance). Sean Paul's Dutty Rock blares from the speakers. "Are you writing about me?"
I'm at Rick's in Lake City to write about an upcoming ballot initiative, but I don't have the heart to tell her which one. It's not the imminent vote on the "four-foot rule"—a vote that could put her out work—but rather, I-933, the "property rights initiative." While I-933 is about as high-stakes as ballot initiatives get, it's also about land use, a subject that most readers find dull. That's why I'm at a strip club: In order to con people into reading a story about I-933, I'm making it look, at first glance, like a story about strippers and laps dances and ultra-mini skirts.
* * *
Strippers are, of course, a legit topic this election season, thanks to Mayor Greg Nickels's proposal to regulate strip clubs out of existence. Every once in a while at Rick's an announcement breaks the triphop beat: "If you are a voter in Seattle, vote NO, on Referendum 1!" Voters are being asked to "approve" or "reject" legislation passed by the city council last summer that was designed to combat the petty crimes that supposedly plague neighborhoods near strip clubs by lighting the club up like a cafeteria and instituting a four-foot rule to prevent lap dances. The rules would, as they have in nearby suburbs, probably put the clubs out of business.
The city has never presented any evidence of a connection between crime and strip clubs. In fact, the city's stats undermine the city's arguments. A public-records request submitted by The Stranger found no evidence that strip clubs—which are limited to serving soft drinks, by the way—attract crime [see "Whereas the City Is Lying," Josh Feit, September 28]. If Nickels wants to take on a neighborhood business, he should be going after the nearby Fred Meyer in Lake City where there were more than twice as many calls for SPD service and accompanying police reports according to police data between 1998 and 2006. Similarly, Sands, the strip club in Ballard, is dwarfed by calls to the nearby QFC, Safeway, and Sunset Bowl.
Ultra-Mini—her name is Fawn—slides off her customer and sits down at my table. She's a 25-year-old with an angel face, glossed lips, and a small, athletic body—and she wants to give me a lap dance, which I have to admit is making it hard to concentrate on land-use issues. Out of the 50 women slinking around the crowded club—including a full-hipped Asian woman with bleached-blond hair, and "any other flavor you want," according to a chesty redhead who leaned over our table—the one in the ultra-mini is the one my friends and I have been gawking at the whole time.
"As long as your paper is paying," my friend advises, "You should get a lap dance with her. In the VIP room."
* * *
I'll tell you about my trip to the VIP room with Fawn and her coy claim that she teaches Bible study at a Shoreline church (hot!) in a second—but first, a bit about I-933.
If voters approve I-933, the city, state, and county will be forced to compensate people when environmental safeguards and growth-management zoning rules impact their property values. The scheme is known as "pay or waive." That is, the government has to pay for the property owner's loss or waive the guideline. For example, if a smart-growth developer wants to build a low-income infill apartment near a single-family zone, the homeowners across the street could forestall this development by making the case that the low-income multifamily housing would negatively impact their property values and could demand that the city compensate them.
Speaking of property values: Naked ladies don't seem to harm them much. A new study of city property values between 2000 and 2005 found that Rick's and our city's other "dangerous" strip clubs—Déjà Vu Showgirls downtown and the Sands in Ballard—had no negative impact on property values. In fact, median property values actually increased in all three neighborhoods. A new condo is going up next door to Déjà Vu—next door—and prices start—start—at $1 million.
* * *
There are two stages at Rick's on which totally nude girls writhe and strike poses against the mirrors. There's also a VIP room, where dancers flash and straddle gleeful customers.
Speaking of gleeful: Liberals are pretty gleeful about the prospect of seizing control of Congress on November 7. But only paying attention to federal races—and not the dull stuff further down the ballot—could spoil an otherwise promising election. We could wake up on November 8 with another right-winger on the state supreme court (if Stephen Johnson beats Susan Owens); the state's education fund out $100 million (if I-920, Frank Blethen's estate-tax repeal for the richest 250 families in the state, passes); and McMansions sprawling into formerly protected lands if I-933 passes.
I-933 is an extra-strength clone of a devastating initiative that passed in Oregon in 2004. Oregon's Measure 37 has lead to nearly 3,000 claims totaling $6 billion in state compensation, forcing the state to waive land-use guidelines. Local environmental group Sightline collected a slew of stories from post M-37 Oregonians— alarmed property owners ironically—who are upset about gravel mines, geothermal plants, vacation homes, and McMansions moving in next door.
Washington's I-933 is far worse than Oregon's Measure 37, though. Oregon's law made exemptions for federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. I-933 does not. Oregon's law made exemptions for health and safety guidelines. I-933 does not. Oregon's pay-or-waive rule was only available to people who lived on the property when the new regulations went into effect. Under I-933, a developer can look for places that are regulated, buy them up, and then file a claim. Also, I-933 doesn't just apply to land, it applies to "real" property—which, critics worry, could spark claims from people complaining about regulations that affect their cars or their pit bulls.
Supporters of I-933 have claimed that Washington State's Growth Management Act (GMA) won't be upended if the initiative passes because under I-933 only laws less than 10 years old can be challenged. Since the GMA passed in 1990, they claim, it won't be affected. That's a lie: What was passed in 1990 was just a concept—much of the specific, local zoning laws making good on the GMA weren't passed until after 1996. Seattle, for example, is still passing rules to put the GMA into effect.
And that's what Seattle should be doing, instead of regulating dancers in Lake City.
* * *
Speaking of dancers in Lake City, I have yet to report on the backroom of Rick's, where Fawn straddled me.
"So, what are you going to write about me?" she asked.
I didn't have the heart to tell her.