LONG BEACH - Sure, sex may sell, as the old advertising adage goes, but Long Beach city officials want to make sure if an adult business opens within city limits, it is as tightly controlled and regulated as possible to protect public safety and property value.
Currently, there is a moratorium on the licensing of adult businesses, giving the city officials a chance to work out regulating and zoning proposals to control the businesses. According to officials, no applications for such a business have been submitted at this time.
"There are no applications pending. So what we have here is an opportunity to have rigorous regulations in place," said City Administrator Robert Strope during a joint meeting on July 20 between the city council and the planning commission to discuss the issue.
Adult businesses, such as porn shops or exotic dancing establishments, are protected under the first amendment freedom of speech, so cannot be prohibited in communities, said Interim Community Development Director Michael Davolio. But, the courts do allow communities to tightly regulate and restrict the areas where they are allowed to limit adverse impacts to the community.
"There is no requirement that you regulate these businesses," he said. "You can take your chances. You can choose not to regulate, but you cannot choose to not allow these businesses in the city."
He told the group the only area now zoned for adult businesses is located in the L1 or light industrial zone, which is mostly city owned and located near a school. He believes the city would lose any court challenge by an adult business claiming inadequate access, which would mean the business could open anywhere in the city.
"A year ago someone could have walked in and opened one in the L1 district or opened one next to the arcade (downtown)," said Strope.
So city staff has drafted two ordinances, one covering regulations and one covering zoning, or location, just in case.
"It's called a preemptive strike," said Council member Fred Cook. "People have to understand that it's a protective measure."
The ordinance covering regulations is 18 pages long, and covers everything from licensing of every adult business employee, including background checks, to prohibiting alcohol on the premises to layout and design of the interior of the business.
Strope said the ordinance would give potential adult business owners "an idea of the order of magnitude of the bureaucracy that you have to go through," in all likelihood discouraging them from wanting to open in Long Beach.
"With licensing they might rather be in unincorporated areas," suggested Mayor Ken Ramsey.
"That (the regulations) in itself is enough to deter anybody," said Council member Gary Luethe.
"I think it's very well written," said Planning Commissioner Natalie Hanson.
Additional discussion was generated by the second ordinance, which would outline where the businesses would be allowed, and whether they would be clumped together in the C1 commercial zone between 12th Street and 14th Street South or dispersed in various locations throughout the city.
"No matter where you go in the city you're going to have some impact," said Davolio.
The group decided to wait for additional input from the public.
Later that night, the regular city council meeting began by reopening the public hearing on adult businesses extended from the June 15 council meeting.
The council chamber was crowded with citizens concerned the city might be trying to attract adult businesses with the ordinances, basically putting up a big welcome sign.
The discussion began with Davolio giving a presentation on the ordinances, outlining for the public the same information he had presented earlier to the planning commission and the city council, calming some concerns of the crowd while raising others.
"I didn't know we were between a rock and a hard place," one person commented.
"We're listening to you," said Ramsey. "We want to do the best thing for you."
Much of the concern centered on the allowable location of any potential adult business. More than one person said they would prefer not to have them in the south area of the city because it acts as a "gateway" for tourists, many of them families. People wanted to know what kind of impression the businesses would present to people entering Long Beach, and if it would negatively effect the tourist industry as a result.
In addition, that location is adjacent to the McDonalds restaurant, which contains a playground. People were worried about the exposure of the children and youth who gather at the restaurant to an adult business.
While some people still objected on principle to the idea of any ordinance, others were sympathetic to the reasoning.
"If it had to be, I'd rather have it in the north side. I can understand your point that it has to be done," said Donna Alexander Herb, "but not in my backyard," she said, eliciting chuckles.
"Trust me," said Cook with a smile, "this is not something we were looking forward to dealing with."
Marvin Hall question why the background check could only disqualify applicants based on crimes related to adult business, such as sex crimes, involvement in organized crime organizations or drug charges. He said when he worked as a car salesman, potential employees could be disqualified from work based on any history of crime convictions, such as embezzlement.
"In general," Davolio told him, drawing a laugh from the crowd, "car salesmen are not protected by the first amendment."
In the end, the council voted to extend the public hearing comment and explore other options for potential locations, although in general, people seemed pleased with the licensing requirements.
"You've had a hot potato," one person told the council as they concluded the hearing. "You're doing a good job."
The next public hearing will be held at the Aug. 17 council meeting. Copies of the draft ordinances are available at the Long Beach City Hall on Bolstad Ave.