Seattle City Council Approves Stricter Strip-Club Rules

SEATTLE - A new motto for the city's tourism department: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

The City Council on Monday approved some of the strictest adult-entertainment regulations of any major city in the country, voting 5-4 to require that dancers stay 4 feet from patrons. That means no lap dances and no folding dollar bills into G-strings.

In addition, the clubs must maintain at least parking-garage brightness throughout the premises and can have no private rooms. Dancers will no longer be allowed to take money directly from customers; instead, customers will put the money in a tip jar.

"For the most part, the attraction's gone," said Gil Levy, a lawyer for Rick's adult nightclub in Seattle. "It will make the clubs less fun."

The legislation was requested by Mayor Greg Nickels and will take effect six months after he signs it. The mayor's office said the restrictions were needed to prevent a rash of cabarets from opening after a federal judge struck down the city's 17-year moratorium on new strip clubs.

Technically, Seattle already had a ban on dancers and patrons "touching" in clubs. But city officials and police said that rule is ignored and that dancers routinely give lap dances.

Several officers submitted testimony about witnessing acts of prostitution or near-prostitution in the clubs, but said that because the clubs are dark, it was sometimes hard to prove the no-touching rule was being violated without buying a lap dance.

"It is somewhat offensive, as taxpayers, to be paying our vice department for lap dances," said Kelly Meinig, a Seattle resident who supported the legislation.

Only one council member, Richard McIver, spoke in favor of the regulations Monday. He said he supported them because the people responsible for regulating strip clubs wanted them.

Those who opposed the rules suggested a better way to regulate strip clubs would be through zoning, to keep them away from schools, churches and homes. Seattle has no zoning regulations governing adult entertainment.

Furthermore, they said, the rules are unbecoming of a city that prides itself on being liberal and tolerant.

"Without being prudes, we can be prudent," said council member Nick Licata.

"For far too long, men have tried to tell women what work they can do," added council member Jean Godden.

The number of cabarets in Seattle jumped from two to seven in the late 1980s. 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.

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.

A previous City Council hearing on the matter drew more than 100 of Seattle's 554 licensed dancers, many toting small children, but only four attended Monday's vote.

Afterwards, none would comment on the record. Asked why, one said, "Because we have families, we go to school, we're very emotional and we're pissed off about this."

Dancers at Sands Showgirls, one of Seattle's four cabarets, watched the council meeting on television, said one who declined to give her name for fear of retribution from management.

"They're only doing this because they know it'll shut the clubs down," she said.