Ignore the smokescreen. Referendum 1 is not about Rick's, "Strippergate" or Frank Colacurcio. It's about whether adults in this community...

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Ignore the smokescreen. Referendum 1 is not about Rick’s, “Strippergate” or Frank Colacurcio. It’s about whether adults in this community have the right to go to adult nightclubs if they choose to do so and whether a few in city government will succeed in shutting these clubs down.

A bit of local history may help put this in perspective. For 17 years, the Seattle City Council imposed a moratorium on new licenses for adult nightclubs. The stated reason for the moratorium was to enable the city to develop a new adult nightclub zoning ordinance.

When the federal court declared the moratorium unconstitutional, the mayor and five members of the council opted for the new and burdensome regulations, which are now the subject of Referendum 1. They intended these regulations to be so strict that they would discourage new clubs from opening in the city and at the same time would have the effect of closing down the three remaining clubs.

Will the regulations shut down clubs? Consider that dancers are required to perform 4 feet away from patrons and patrons are at all times to remain 4 feet away from dancers. The regulations impose vicarious liability on the business owner, meaning that if a single dancer performs 3 feet away from a patron, it is grounds to suspend or revoke the business license and close down the club.

The only avenue of appeal is to the Seattle hearing examiner, who is appointed by the mayor. Under this regime, the three remaining adult nightclubs will continue their existence at the exclusive discretion of the police and the Department of Revenue and Licensing.

If these officials wish to use the regulations as a pretext to shut down the clubs, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. Does that sound far-fetched? That is exactly what happened in Bellevue, which used the 4-foot rule as a pretext to shut down all the adult nightclubs in that city.

Do we need the new regulations? The evidence shows that adult nightclubs have no greater impact on surrounding neighborhoods than other businesses. For example, Rick’s on Lake City Way has fewer police calls than Fred Meyer, New Cadillac Jacks, Rimrock Steakhouse, Claire’s Pantry and 7-Eleven — all businesses located in the area and which operate with similar nighttime hours.

Furthermore, a recent study by a reputable economist shows that the existing adult nightclubs in Seattle do not have a negative effect on property values in surrounding neighborhoods. Contrary to popular belief, the clubs do not have a history of arrests for prostitution or drug offenses; there hasn’t been a single conviction on these issues in the past five years of data that we researched. While there have been some citations for dancer violations of existing regulations, more recently these have been few and far between.

Ultimately, Referendum 1 is a battle for the right of citizens to choose between various forms of legal adult entertainment. Do Seattleites wish their city to be known as tolerant and open-minded? Or has Seattle become the equivalent of a moral nanny, ceding to government officials the right to make these decisions? Can women decide whether they wish to make a decent living as dancers or do we fear to trust them with that choice?

We hope the voters will decide that as consenting adults they should have the right to enjoy a diversity of nightlife and entertainment and that they don’t need the city government to make this decision for them. Reject Referendum 1. Vote no.


Gil Levy is co-chairman of Seattle Citizens for Free Speech, the group heading the “no” campaign. He is a Seattle attorney specializing in First Amendment cases and a lawyer for Rick’s.