Even Hollywood Moved to Crack Down on Its Adult Businesses

Even Hollywood, hardly a center of conservative prudishness, years ago decided stricter adult-use zoning was in order…

City and law enforcement officials long ago concluded that much of the prostitution, lewd behavior and other crime as well as the general seediness that plagues Hollywood emanates from the concentration of pornography shops in the area.

Now, after years of neighborhood protests, Los Angeles authorities say they are readying a new enforcement offensive against some of the most bothersome purveyors of pornography.

Their major weapon will not be vice raids or undercover work, but instead a seemingly innocuous Los Angeles city zoning ordinance amended in 1988 to prohibit the shops from operating within 500 feet of a residential area. The ordinance has survived one legal challenge and Los Angeles is now ready to put it to the test.

The first targets are a handful of Hollywood adult bookstore/video arcades that authorities allege are magnets for the crime that has blighted an area which was once the playground of movie stars…

The city maintains that it is not trying to stifle freedom of speech, acknowledging that the porn shop owners have First Amendment rights to sell and show any legally approved pornography.

“There is a cancerous growth that exists around all these X-rated stores that is not healthy for children, neighbors and the businesses around them,” said Detective A.W. Sewell Jr., a police investigator who monitors the shops for the Los Angeles Police Commission. “Wherever these places exist, it is a mecca for crime.”

Sgt. Richard Webb, an LAPD vice officer stationed in Hollywood, says there are at least 20 adult video parlors in his area alone. “We make constant arrests out of the video parlors, mostly for lewd conduct in public,” he said. “I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many…”

“And police only go in those places once in a while,” Detective Sewell said. “It’s unbelievable how many violations actually occur…”

The ordinance for years prohibited porn shops from being built within 1,000 feet of each other, and 500 feet from parks, churches and schools. It was amended, effective in March, 1988, to prohibit porn shops–including existing ones–from operating within 500 feet of a residential area, a change that suddenly made about 80% of the businesses vulnerable to shutdown, Snyder says.

By late 1988, preliminary steps were taken to close dozens of sex-oriented businesses too close to residential areas. But prosecutors were leery of using the ordinance until pending court cases-particularly a Long Beach case before the California Supreme Court-were decided.

“We had to lie in wait for the decision, to give us the leverage we need,” Sewell said.

In late June, 1989, the state’s high court reversed earlier rulings that had said adult stores were exempt from such zoning ordinances if they split their inventory evenly between adult material and regular material. In a precedent-setting ruling, the court held that adult materials must only constitute a “significant” part of the business.

“It greatly reduces the burden of the prosecutor in these cases,” Guarino said. The tedious task of arguing with porn shop lawyers over which materials are adult, and whether to use inventory or sales figures as a yardstick, are no longer of primary concern, he says…

After the ruling, City Atty. James K. Hahn announced: “A common cry of adult entertainment businesses has been that this ordinance violates their First Amendment rights. But we have taken great care at every step-from drafting the ordinance to implementing it and enforcing it-to make sure we did not infringe on those rights while also protecting the public.

“I hope this court ruling finally gets that message across.”

If the defense lawyers for the porn shops argue their free speech rights are being compromised, as the city expects they will, prosecutors will say they are protecting citizens from the “secondary” effects of the businesses-the crime, lewd conduct, prostitution and the increased noise and traffic.

Meanwhile, Sewell and other police investigators say the city zoning ordinance will come in handy in their efforts to clean up Hollywood.

“It has been in decline over the last few decades, in terms of the people it attracts and what’s going on up there,” Sewell says. “You don’t have movie stars walking the streets anymore. You have…nuts and crazies.”

From the Los Angeles Times, “City Arms for New Legal War on Porn Law enforcement: A zoning ordinance will be the city’s major weapon as it seeks to shut down pornography shops in Hollywood”, 1/27/90

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