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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.
Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.
Prudish Not Prudent – The 4 Foot Rule
The Mayor’s legislation ( CB 115326) providing new regulations for the adult entertainment establishments, otherwise known as “strip clubs,” was voted out of the Full Council on Oct 3rd by 5-4. Although the media referred to this legislation as the “4 Foot” rule, since it proposed that entertainers remain at least 4 feet from their clients, there were many other features of the legislation that provided a number of reasonable and useful changes.
The bill has been portrayed as very controversial. I believe that many had the perception was that there would be grave political consequences for voting against this bill. Yet, the majority of emails I have received on this issue and the talk on the street suggest that people would rather have us deal with more important issues. I have sense that we are shadow boxing only ourselves on this 4 foot rule.
Seattle is receiving national attention for being a large city working to make illegal the activity that, of the nation’s big cities, is only illegal in a couple. An October 3 MSNBC national poll about this proposal, accompanying an article with the headline, “City with liberal reputation weighs tough new strip-club rules,” resulted in 2/3′s saying adults should do as they please in a private club. Further, our own Seattle Post Intelligencer conducted a Reader’s Poll with 83% opposing the effort to ban lap dances.
This legislation was introduced in anticipation of a zoning code change which we are told the Mayor is planning to propose. The zoning could limit the location of these types of establishments. For the last 17 years there has been a “temporary” moratorium on permitting any new such businesses. There are currently 5 licensed in Seattle. The Courts recently ruled that the city must lift the moratorium and establish a process for locating these adult entertainment businesses.
The expectation was that if we just lifted the moratorium without new regulations, Seattle could be flooded with applications for new strip clubs. This was partially based on the concern that most other cities around us have 4 foot rules and we do not. However, there are 4 cities in the greater suburban area that do not have 4 foot rules for their clubs. Perhaps due to zoning restrictions, which can severely limit where such clubs can be located, only one of those cities has such a club.
I and my colleagues joining me in voting against this bill believed that zoning is the answer. We can use zoning regulations to determine where these businesses can and cannot be located. The nearby jurisdictions of Lynwood, Redmond, Shoreline, and Des Moines have each placed restrictions in their zoning code on how close they can be located to schools, churches, parks, other clubs or even residences. If these jurisdictions can figure this out, then why can’t Seattle?
Although I was successful in amending the bill, I along with Councilmembers Steinbrueck, Godden, and Rasmussen, opposed the legislation in the final vote . I had a number of amendments that had they passed would have allowed me and others to vote yes. Below is a brief review of some of the highlights of the new regulations, followed by an explanation of my amendments.
New Regs For Strip Clubs
- Dancers dancing off-stage must maintain a distance of four feet from patrons and other dancers.
- Lighting must be at least 30 lux.
- The use of a tip jar rather than handing tips directly to the entertainer
- Employers being responsible in addition to entertainers for violations
- Elimination of “backroom” type of spaces where entertainers can be sequestered with their clients out of public sight.
- No one under age 18 can be a performer
- Establishing a written standard for conduct and operation of the business which must be adhered by the employees and employers (this was an amendment successfully offered by Councilmember Steinbrueck).
- A manager shall not perform as an entertainer
- Eliminate the Mayor’s proposed 3 foot high continuous railing around the stage
- Establish a “no touch” rule instead of a 4 foot rule for entertainers
- Eliminate the 30 lux minimum requirement, but require sufficient lighting to be equally distributed throughout the premises so that all objects are plainly visible at all times rather than setting specific minimum lighting level.
- Retain license appeal process within the office of the Hearing Examiner rather than referring it to Municipal Court (this amendment passed).
Courts have ruled that governments cannot restrict the freedom of expression unless the public is endangered. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled just last week on this point, striking down a four foot rule based upon their state constitution’s free speech provisions, which are very similar to those of Washington State’s. The City’s Law Department counters that the unsuccessful legal challenges to the four foot rule regulations of other Washington jurisdictions provides are evidence that the Seattle bill is not legally vulnerable.
Nevertheless, I believe that without my amendments to the legislation we may be led back to the court room. There we will be forced to argue that these clubs present a danger to public safety. Seattle Police Department data does not clearly support claims of higher than average illegal activity around these clubs. There are a number of national academic studies that challenge the claim that the “secondary affects,” of crime accompany these establishments.
If we are forced to try and prove in court that negative secondary impacts accompany these businesses, we could lose and pay through our blue noses*consequently spending more time and money on an issue about which few people (aside from the approximately 575 women who make their living this way) seem to care about.