- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

SEATTLE (AP) — Strippers who venture too near the laps of their dollar-bill-waving patrons have exposed an unexpected streak in this West Coast bastion of 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 today on some of the strictest adult-entertainment regulations of any big city in the country: no lap dances, no dollar bills, and the clubs must have what one council member likens to department-store lighting.

“It’s wiping out an entire industry in Seattle,” said Gilbert Levy, an attorney for Rick’s, one of the city’s four existing clubs.

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. 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, Mayor Greg Nickels, a Democrat, 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 to parking-garage brightness.

Technically, the city already bans “touching” between a dancer and a customer, but officials dispute whether that means sexual touching or all touching. At any rate, they say it is 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.”

Seattle’s usual libertine attitude dates back to the city’s thriving business of separating prospectors from their gold at brothels and saloons. Anti-war demonstrations are routine here, a homosexual population has thrived for nearly a century, and residents voted two years ago to make enforcing marijuana laws the police department’s lowest priority.

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