La Habra, California- Anaheim recently lost $2 million to a strip club owner, and some believe a similar fate may await La Habra.
In March, Anaheim settled a lawsuit filed by Bill Gammoh that alleged city officials unconstitutionally prevented him from opening a Taboo Gentlemen’s Club there, causing him to lose profits, court documents state.
Gammoh and his attorney, Scott Wellman, are also fighting La Habra City Hall. They are scheduled to head to court in June in lawsuits filed over an adult cabaret.
Although the issues are different in each city, the common goal of city officials and many residents is to bar strip clubs near homes. Similar battles have been waged for decades by cities nationwide.
In La Habra, the city in 1995 denied Gammoh the permits to open the cabaret, which then was called the Pelican Theater, court documents say. An appellate court ordered the city to issue Gammoh the permits in 1996 and 1998.
Taboo Gentlemen’s Club, as it is called in both cities, has been open in La Habra since December 1998. It is the only adult entertainment club in the city of 60,000.
According to one of Gammoh’s suits against La Habra, the city then passed restrictive ordinances, including one calling for exotic dancers to remain at least two feet from patrons. That suit contends that La Habra’s laws are unconstitutionally vague and seeks to have them overturned.
A second suit seeks an unspecified sum to compensate Gammoh for lost profits because of the restrictions and for what Gammoh calls police harassment of customers.
“This case never had to happen,” Wellman said. “All they had to do was give Mr. Gammoh his permit in 1995 and then no one would have known [the cabaret] was there. My pet peeve in this is that they’re spending tons of taxpayers’ money. This is getting ridiculous.”
La Habra City Manager Brad Bridenbecker said that Gammoh’s allegations are false and that the city has a duty to defend its laws.
“We have a business owner that has challenged the ordinances of this city, and the city has an obligation to defend those,” he said. “I don’t think the ordinances have the ability to limit the businesses that open in town.”
La Habra has spent about $800,000 on the court cases so far, Bridenbecker said. “We’d love to be able to spend the money in other areas,” he said, “but you have to defend the ordinances on the books, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Bridenbecker declined to discuss the specifics of the two suits, but said, “If [Taboo Gentlemen’s Club] was operated in a manner that conformed with the code, we probably wouldn’t be spending all this money.”
Roger Jon Diamond, a Santa Monica-based attorney who has won many strip club cases over the years, said cities will always be in an uproar over the clubs “simply for moral reasons.” People don’t like the idea that men enjoy watching scantily clad women dance, he said.
Diamond represented Gammoh when he first sued Anaheim and La Habra, then left the cases for undisclosed reasons.
He said city council mem- bers tend to succumb to pressure from residents who don’t want strip clubs in their neighborhoods, but judges tend to find that there is no consti- tutional reason to prevent strip clubs from coming into cities.
“We keep winning in court as long as the judges are faithful to the Constitution,” Diamond said.
He said there was a good chance that Gammoh will win his case against La Habra.
Bridenbecker, however, said La Habra is not worried about losing.
“We feel the ordinances we’ve got on the books would survive any legal challenge.”