City Council approves tougher strip-club rules
Seattle Times staff reporter
By a G-string-thin margin, the Seattle City Council yesterday approved tough new rules governing conduct in strip clubs.
The council voted 5-4 to approve an ordinance that will require clubs to keep dancers and patrons at least four feet apart, install a 3-foot railing between the stage and audience, ban direct tipping and install brighter lighting.
Opponents said the new restrictions — some of the strictest among the nation's big cities — were unfairly aimed at driving the clubs out of business. Lawyers representing the clubs said they may sue the city.
A minority of the council, led by Councilman Nick Licata, argued that the public didn't want the city to be acting as morality police and tried to defang the new law by offering amendments deleting the 4-foot rule, lighting and railing requirements.
"Without being prudes, we can be prudent," Licata said.
But the council rejected those amendments on 5-4 votes, divided along the same lines as the overall ordinance.
Voting in favor of the new rules were council members Jan Drago, Richard McIver, Jim Compton, David Della and Richard Conlin. Opposed were Licata, Peter Steinbrueck, Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen.
McIver defended the restrictions — which would hold club owners responsible for violations — as similar to those in neighboring cities and easier for Seattle police to enforce.
Current law prohibits sexual touching between dancers and patrons, but there is no requirement for dancers to stay a certain distance from customers. Dancers typically pay $100 or more a shift to club owners and earn their pay by performing erotic "lap dances" for tips.
With only four strip clubs operating in Seattle, the issue of what goes on inside them hadn't been considered pressing at City Hall until a lawsuit was filed challenging the city's 17-year moratorium on new clubs.
In anticipation of losing the lawsuit, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proposed the new rules in July. Two months later, a federal judge struck down the moratorium, forcing the city to draw up zoning where new clubs can open.
If the goal was to discourage a swarm of new clubs, the new rules may have succeeded already.
Bob Davis, who won the lawsuit challenging the city moratorium after being denied a license to open a club of his own, said the new rules have likely scuttled his business plans.
Davis said he had been ready to close on the purchase of a $1 million building south of downtown to open a new strip club. He said he'll probably cancel those plans.
"I think Seattle is going to become a laughingstock. ... We are going to look like the Moral Majority up here," Davis said, referring to television evangelist Jerry Falwell's political committee founded to promote conservative Christian values.
Last year, there were about 197,000 visits to the city's clubs, not including the Lusty Lady peep show, generating $79,000 in admission taxes, attorneys for two of the clubs said.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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