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Martinez, Ca. wants to keep stores, strip clubs away from homes, parks and churches

Martinez, California- Martinez plans to beef up its control over adult businesses, specifying their location and requiring all of their employees to register with the police.

The revised business code would keep adult businesses at least 300 feet from neighborhoods and 1,000 feet from schools, churches, parks and other adult businesses. The city last amended the code in 1980. The City Council is scheduled to consider the changes Wednesday.

The city defines an “adult business” as any establishment that offers sexually oriented merchandise, materials or entertainment in adult arcades, bookstores, cabarets, dance studios, hotels or motels, modeling studios or theaters. Martinez has one adult business, Frenche’s on Escobar Street.

A city staff report says the intent is to safeguard residents from problems that some affiliate with these types of businesses, such as crime, blight and deterioration to surrounding areas.

“Time has shown that that’s really what you need to do to ensure that there are bona fide adult businesses that aren’t doing anything illegal … so we want to put in all provisions that deal with that and prevent it,” said Albert Lopez, Martinez’s deputy community development director.

“We’re required to have an ordinance that protects the freedom of speech, but at the same time protect the city and its interests,” Lopez said.

The registration requirement bothered an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

“Cities are allowed to require that (adult businesses)
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obtain licenses and regulate where that place can be, based on its effects, but saying every person who wants to work at an adult bookstore register with police certainly raises concerns for us,” said Michael Risher with the ACLU of Northern California.

The city’s plan might conflict with the state constitution’s privacy guarantee, he said.

One of the city’s attorneys said the ordinance was based on others across the state.

Registration guarantees that employees of such businesses are not involved in illegal activity, said Veronica Nebb, Martinez’s assistant city attorney.

Martinez faced such an adult store issue in the late 1990s with the operator of the city’s lone adult shop, Frenche’s Exotic Video.

Owner Stanley Kuhns, a registered sex offender who had been convicted of sex with a minor, was arrested for violating his probation. Kuhns’ plan for a teen fun center next to his adult business died with his arrest.

The store remains in town, though it was closed Thursday and Friday and no one could be contacted by phone.

The First Amendment prevents Martinez from imposing restrictive zoning regulations that would interfere with a constitutional right, but it can pinpoint where businesses can locate in town.

The city has the power to protect children from adult businesses, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.

It “can restrict them to areas of the city where people who have a right to patronize there should be able to get access and also protect parents who want to make sure their kids don’t get near them,” he said.

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