Image: Seattle strip club
Ted S. Warren  /  AP
Lawmakers are poised to adopt rules mandating dancers remain at least 4 feet away from customers at the Deja Vu club and other adult adult-entertainment venues in Seattle.
updated 10/3/2005 1:10:45 PM ET 2005-10-03T17:10:45

Strippers who venture too near the laps of their dollar-bill-waving patrons have exposed an unexpected prudish streak in this West Coast bastion of tolerance and liberalism.

Fearing a spate of new cabarets after a federal judge struck down the city’s 17-year moratorium on new strip clubs, the City Council is planning to vote Monday on some of the strictest adult-entertainment regulations of any big city in the country.

No lap dances. No placing dollar bills in a dancer’s G-string. And the clubs must have what one council member likens to “Fred Meyer” lighting, a reference to the department store chain.

“It’s wiping out an entire industry in Seattle,” said Gilbert Levy, a lawyer for Rick’s gentleman’s club.

Seattle’s queasiness over naked dancing contradicts its usual freewill attitude, dating back to the city’s thriving business separating prospectors from their gold at brothels and saloons. Anti-war demonstrations are routine here, a gay population has thrived for nearly a century, and residents voted two years ago to make enforcing marijuana laws the police department’s lowest priority.

‘What is sin?’
“Seattle had always had that reputation for being a wide-open town, so it’s an almost-normal kind of Seattle controversy — what is sin?” said local historian David Wilma.

After the number of strip clubs jumped from two to seven between 1986 and 1988, the city imposed a 180-day moratorium on new cabarets while it studied the issue. Over the next two decades, the City Council repeatedly extended the moratorium, in part to avoid the politically sensitive issue of where the new strip clubs would be allowed.

The number of strip clubs in the city fell to four. By contrast, Atlanta has roughly three dozen.

But last month, U.S. District Judge James Robart ruled the moratorium was an unconstitutional restraint on free speech. The city could wind up paying the plaintiff, a man who wants to open a club downtown, millions of dollars in damages.

In anticipation of the ruling, Democratic Mayor Greg Nickels came up with rules to discourage new strip clubs and make it easier to police existing ones.

Under these rules, dancers would have to stay 4 feet away from customers, private rooms would be barred, customers couldn’t give money directly to entertainers, and the minimum lighting would be increased — think parking-garage brightness.

Vice squad hails proposal
Technically, the city already bans “touching” between a dancer and customer, but officials dispute whether that means sexual touching or all touching. At any rate, they say it’s impossible to enforce and completely ignored.

“How do you know there’s no touching unless you’re one of the participants?” said Mel McDonald, the city official charged with strip club regulation. “It’s dark in there. You don’t know whether they’re half-an-inch away or not. With the 4-foot rule, it’s a lot less subjective. Our vice people can enforce it without buying a dance.”

City Council meetings on the rules have drawn protests from more than 100 of the city’s 554 licensed dancers, many toting young children.

But the general public doesn’t seem terribly interested, said Paul Elliott, aide to council member Richard McIver.

“We get more e-mails about putting synthetic turf on the Lowell Heights playfield,” Elliot said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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