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Pasadena on Catch-22 Over Strip Club

PASADENA – Time is short for City Hall to devise and enact new restrictions on adult businesses, which will likely attract a new round of legal challenges.

A moratorium enacted last month to block a strip club from coming into east Pasadena expires Nov. 2, and in lieu of extending it, the City Council has opted to hurry new restrictions on where adult businesses can operate.

“The courts have said very clearly, we can’t say no, as much as we’d like to,” said City Councilman Paul Little. “We have to offer some place in Pasadena for these kinds of businesses to operate.”

The lawyer representing the proposed club at 2180 E. Foothill Blvd. filed a lawsuit in federal court last month after the moratorium was established, claiming the city was infringing upon his client’s rights.

Instead of withdrawing the lawsuit as requested by the city attorney’s office, Roger Diamond [pictured] said he would amend his federal complaint if the new zoning rules precluded his client’s site from opening.

“If, in fact, they’re taking away that site after first saying it’s OK, they’re going to have to create new sites for adult uses … they’re going to have to tell people `We’re creating new areas and guess what, it’s in your neighborhood,”‘ he said.

In response to a similar lawsuit in 1995, Pasadena identified alternate locations to one then being proposed.

At that time, the city noted in court “the property at 2180 East Foothill Boulevard … would be an available site for an adult business such as an adult cabaret and/or adult theater,” according to the current complaint against the city.

Cities cannot create zoning laws that entirely block adult businesses, but can make it difficult through “time, place and manner” restrictions. Diamond said Pasadena is playing a “shell game.”

“They can’t just keep rezoning it every six months or so,” he said.

Diamond said the lawsuit would likely be dropped if Pasadena let the moratorium expire and left the zoning rules alone; or sufficiently compensate his client for the current property and find him an acceptable alternative within the city.

City Hall does not seem poised to meet either condition.

In the meantime, Pasadena’s planning department is considering increased distance requirements between adult businesses and residential areas, as well as setbacks from similar establishments.

“The principal focus is to make that site unworkable from a legal point of view,” said Mayor Bill Bogaard.

A recommendation on new rules goes to the planning commission on Nov. 9, according to Councilman Steve Haderlein, and is expected before the City Council on Nov. 13.

Diamond, who has won in court against the likes of San Diego, Pomona, San Bernardino and Anaheim on similar cases, said elected officials squander public funds by passing the buck to courtrooms and judges.

Adult businesses bring public safety issues that require action by the council, Haderlein said.

“We’re not doing this to avoid political fallout, we’re looking to avoid the types of problems these businesses create,” he said.

Risking millions of dollars in a legal battle, he added, was worth mitigating the potential impact on the community.

Whatever they do, Pasadena’s elected officials are in a bind. They risk community ire if they allow the business to open unchallenged or ensure an expensive legal battle if they maneuver to block it.

There is no simple course of action, said Councilman Sid Tyler.

“The issue is going to be with us for years, whether it’s in court or not,” Tyler said. “I’m not optimistic. There’s no easy way out.”

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