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Topless Clubs Done in Pasadena?

Pasadena- A beautiful woman gyrates suggestively across the stage toward a shiny metal poll. Her long, black hair falls lightly over her shoulders and she wears an almost invisible, dental floss-thin bikini tight. She wraps her body around the pole and simulates sexual acts that every man in the place wishes he was a part of. Dollar bills fly. It’s Saturday, Asian Model Palooza night at Pleasures Gentlemen’s Club in Pasadena.

Then the woman approaches the edge of the stage, and with a flick of the wrists her top falls to the ground. She begins to touch herself and the men howl like wolves. And almost as soon as it all began, the dancer bends down to pick up the money. Her job is done.

If the Pasadena City Council has its way, topless clubs could be finished in this town just as quickly.

On Dec. 4, council members passed an ordinance making it illegal for sexually oriented businesses to operate fewer than 250 feet from any residential area. The new law also requires such establishments to distance themselves from similar businesses and places where children congregate, including schools, and rules out topless dancing altogether.

“I can’t imagine raising my three kids around that type of business,” said Myra Arias-Serrrano, a longtime Pasadena resident who lives close to the newly opened Peppermint Garden, a strip club that many have petitioned the council to keep from operating.

“It’s great [council members] did something, but it would be nice if it was 500 feet,” she said of the ordinance. “I wish they did more.”

City officials cannot outlaw sexually oriented businesses completely, but can act to preserve the quality of life residents currently enjoy, said Mayor Bill Bogaard.

“The constitutional constraint is we can’t ban them 100 percent,” Bogaard said. “We can require there be land-use laws that attempt to preserve the environment of other land uses as fully as possible. There is demonstrated research that there are certain negative effects associated with these businesses, like increased crime, for example.”

The new ordinance will have a serious impact on events like Asian Model Palooza and the Pleasures club itself: no more booze for one thing, and a lot less flesh for another.

The ordinance, which officially took effect Monday, bans both full and partial nudity, all touching between performers and patrons – which would have made illegal former KROQ-FM personality Poorman’s invitation for two customers to lick the performers’ nipples at Saturday’s Palooza – and alcohol sales at adult establishments.

“The way I read the ordinance, it means you can have pasties, G-strings and a juice bar,” said Robert Myers, a community organizer who collected some 5,000 signatures since August from residents like Arias-Serrano looking to shut down the Peppermint Garden before it opened or at least force it to a location a full 500 feet away from any housing.

Despite the city’s refusal to consider some required land use permits, the Peppermint Garden – which doesn’t serve alcohol but boasts fully nude dances – opened Friday night at the former Shakey’s Pizza restaurant at 2180 E. Foothill Blvd.

When the Pasadena anti-strip club movement began a few months back, council members declared a moratorium on new adult-oriented businesses while the Peppermint’s paperwork was still pending. The move essentially barred club owner Greg Hakopyan from obtaining a conditional use permit from the city.

Hakopyan has since filed two lawsuits against the city, both alleging the council has violated free speech rights by targeting the business for closure after paperwork was filed but before it even opened.

“This is in direct response to my client’s application. For once I would like to see politicians give honest answers and say ‘Yes, we are doing this because of the application,'” said Roger Jon Diamond, Hakopyan’s Santa Monica-based attorney who is known for defending members of the adult entertainment industry.

“This ordinance could be bad for Pasadena. There could be a court challenge that will leave the city without any protections at all if the ordinance is deemed too restrictive. Why would you want do that to the entire city just because there is one application for a club next to a dog pound that no one has cared about for years?” continued Diamond.

But this won’t be the first time the city and sexually oriented businesses have met in court.

Pleasures has been battling the city since 2003 when it leased the establishment for two “lust parties” where undercover officers attending the party observed patrons engaging in sexual intercourse.

After settling out of court, the city decided to take further action and revoke Pleasures’ conditional use permit.

Pleasures owner Michael W. Kaltenhaler took the city back to court hoping to stop the action, but on Oct. 26 a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge’s decision was upheld giving the city the ability to revoke the conditional use permit.

As for current actions, “The impetus was that our existing ordinance was a dozen years out of date, and the landscape had changed so much we needed to update it to provide the greatest level of protection for our neighborhoods,” said Councilman Paul Little, who added that the city now plans to review its laws frequently.

“What we didn’t think about was that we would be reviewing the ordinance every year or two to make sure we are up to date, because it seems like every time there is a court case the landscape shifts,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, city staff and consultants presented council members with studies that seemed to show that areas with adult businesses also had a higher crime rate.

“In the ’70s the idea was to cram them into one area and just have all the impact in one place, and we saw serious problems in big cities, especially New York and Boston,” Little said. “Because it’s protected by the First Amendment, we’re just not allowed to say you can’t have it – but we have to protect the city and its residents at the same time.”

Meyers said that when he first began researching the situation, he noticed that other cities had a residential setback which limited where adult businesses could be located.

According to the new Pasadena ordinance, the required 250-foot distance between potential adult sites and a residential zone will be measured from property line edges. The new ordinance severely reduces the number of potential sites throughout the city.

City officials say there are now about 30 possible locations, but Diamond claims that realistically there are fewer than five.

“You can’t defeat the First Amendment this way,” said Diamond.

“I have won countless cases for this very reason. I don’t want to see this happen to Pasadena. I like coming here. In its desire to knock out one project which is located in a zone and location the city previously said was OK, the city might be shooting itself in the foot and wiping out protection from any strip club [opening] in the city,” he continued.

“They are doing this for the same reason the Taliban refuses to allow women to work and come outside with their face showing. It’s religious and moral reasons, and they just don’t like it.”


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