SEATTLE – The City Council on Monday approved some of the strictest adult-entertainment regulations of any major city in the country.
The council voted 5-to-4 to ban lap dances and restrict patrons from placing dollar bills in a dancer’s G-string. Clubs also must have bright lighting, or what one council member likened to “Fred Meyer” lighting, a reference to the brightly lighted chain of stores.
Council members feared a rash of new cabarets after a federal judge struck down the city’s 17-year moratorium on new strip clubs.
Between 1986 and 1988, the number of cabarets in Seattle jumped from two to seven. Concerned residents persuaded the city to impose a 180-day moratorium, to keep the number where it was while officials studied the social effects of the clubs and whether zoning regulations were needed.
Over the next two decades, the City Council repeatedly extended the moratorium as a way of avoiding the politically sensitive issue of deciding in which neighborhoods to allow strip clubs. The number of cabarets in the city fell to four. By contrast, Atlanta has roughly three dozen.
Last year, a man who hoped to open a club downtown sued. U.S. District Judge James Robart sided with him last month, ruling the moratorium an unconstitutional restraint on free speech. The city could wind up paying the man millions of dollars in damages.
In anticipation of the ruling, however, Democratic Mayor Greg Nickels came up with rules designed to make it easier to police strip clubs and to discourage new clubs from opening. The rules included requiring dancers to stay 4 feet from customers, barring the use of private rooms, barring customers from giving money directly to entertainers and increasing the minimum lighting.
The rules would also make the entertainers employees of a club instead of private contractors, which the city believes will make it easier to go after club owners when violations occur. In Seattle, most dancers pay about $150 per shift for the privilege of dancing in the club, and keep what they make in fees and tips.
Last year, about 197,000 people visited the city’s clubs, not including the Lusty Lady peep show, generating $79,000 in admissions taxes.
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