Some neighbors of Hollywood Erotic Boutique say that the porn shop on North Division Street has changed the way they live.
Lynda Parry, for instance, no longer feels comfortable walking to Walgreens.
“Many of us, myself personally, have run into frightening individuals in this alley. I personally saw a disheveled, dirty, long-haired man walk out of the back of (Hollywood) and head toward a small camper pickup I had just passed. It was covered with pornographic material inside and outside of this vehicle. Unbelievable,” Parry said. “I now drive to Walgreens.”
Not all the neighbors of Hollywood Erotic Boutique live in fear of the porn shop. Some who live near the shop who were contacted earlier this year said while they weren’t happy about the shop’s location they couldn’t say it negatively affected them.
But like Parry, about 10 others who live nearby told city leaders last week that they constantly have to deal with sexually explicit litter and undesirable people as a result of its presence.
In response, the Spokane City Council unanimously tightened regulations on porn shops in what it hopes is a final push that will force two Hollywood Erotic Boutiques to move farther away from residential areas. The goal is to make the city’s case in federal court against the porn shops stronger.
City officials, who recently abandoned efforts to settle the case, allege that the business violates code restricting porn shops. CAWA Corp. operates the two Hollywood locations in north Spokane. The business faces a separate lawsuit from the city of Spokane Valley related to a location on East Sprague Avenue.
Spokane leaders have been fighting CAWA, formerly known as World Wide Video, since the City Council approved an ordinance in 2001 forcing adult stores to move from locations adjacent to residential and other areas.
“We’re on the five-yard line heading into the end zone,” City Councilman Steve Salvatori said. “Now is not the time to cave.”
Jim Sicilia, president of CAWA, said in a letter to The Spokesman-Review that the city is targeting a business that pays significant taxes and provides jobs.
“Our stores are very clean, run in a professional manner,” he said. “Minors are not allowed and adults have the ability to make a conscious decision as to whether or not they want to go in our stores and purchase our products. The only people that (are) opposed to our stores are a minority, and can be counted with one hand, politicians.”
But some neighbors told the City Council the store has harmed the business climate and made the area unsafe.
“I am so very sorry that you folks have had to endure this for as long as you have,” Councilman Mike Fagan said.
Council members said it’s time to enforce the intent of rules that the City Council approved in 2001 and amended in 2003.
“What really concerns me is that if there’s a precedent here that’s set where folks will be able to skirt it, then we’ll have problems all over the place,” Councilman Jon Snyder said.
Defending and enforcing the rules have cost the city about $400,000 since 2001, though most of that amount was spent in the first four years, said Milt Rowland, the former assistant city attorney who has been hired by the city to represent it in the current federal lawsuit.
The city began settlement talks with CAWA in 2011. A deal presented to city leaders would have allowed Hollywood to continue operating at its current locations, though the business agreed to some restrictions, such as closing at 2 a.m. But council members didn’t support an agreement that didn’t set a deadline for CAWA to comply fully with the law. A new proposal that would have given Hollywood five years to move was presented to the City Plan Commission late last year, but CAWA rejected it.
Sicilia said continuing to fight his shops will cost more money.
“The politicians in Spokane have a big ego about closing our stores. It is not their money spent on attorneys and litigations, it is the people’s hard-earned tax dollars. It’s your money!” Sicilia wrote in his letter to the newspaper.
Council members expressed frustration that despite court victories the city has not shut down the stores. But Rowland said it’s better to wait until a judge orders the shops closed. If the city padlocks the shops before a judge makes the call, the city may have to reimburse them for lost profits if a judge later rules that the city violated the businesses’ rights.
“They appear to be quite profitable,” Rowland said. “We didn’t just want to hand them a big pile of taxpayer money.”
The intent of the new rules is the same as for the rules they replaced. The changes were made to eliminate potential loopholes.
A store that has inventory consisting of at least 30 percent pornographic material was categorized as an adult store under the city’s previous restrictions. City officials contend that Hollywood tried to skirt the rule by stuffing the shop with nonpornographic inventory that it didn’t intend to sell, such as DVDs of the 1960s sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The new law adds that a business also qualifies as an adult bookstore if at least 500 square feet of space is devoted to sexually explicit materials, if it has at least 2,000 pornographic items, or if it regularly advertises using words like “adult,” “XXX” or “erotic.”
The new law also adds a new category: “sex paraphernalia store.”
“There’s no First Amendment right to sell sex toys,” Rowland said.
The changes were recommended by Scott Bergthold, a Tennessee attorney who has written laws across the country regulating the porn industry. The city paid him $2,500 for his work. Rowland’s law firm has been paid about $85,000 since 2007, said city spokesman Brian Coddington.
The new rules could force the move or closure of two other stores that city officials say haven’t caused problems.
When the new ordinance was briefed last month, Councilman Snyder asked if the tighter rules could affect businesses the city was not targeting. Rowland said it could affect “two other stores on Division,” a reference to Lovers and Adam & Eve.
“They don’t stay open late at night. They’re good neighbors,” Rowland told the council. “Those stores could be caught in the net as well.”
Snyder wondered if the rules are broad enough that a bookstore selling “a bunch of copies of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ ” would violate the ordinance.
Rowland responded that selling the popular erotic novel would not qualify a business as an adult bookstore.