March 18, 2008
Another SOB setback

The last appeal (in federal court, anyway) by the local sexually oriented businesses over the city's ability to enforce the 1997 anti-SOB ordinance has come to an end for the clubs.

The city's long fight to regulate sexually oriented businesses finally may be over, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal by 11 strip clubs in Houston.

The move affirms the constitutionality of the city's ordinance, city lawyers said.

"We hope owners of these businesses will now comply with the law," Mayor Bill White said. "People in the neighborhoods have been telling us for a long time they want this kind of enforcement."

The clubs appealed a provision that barred the businesses from being within 1,500 feet of any school, day care center, church or park. Other parts of the city's law, such as a requirement that dancers stay three feet away from clients, already have been upheld by the federal courts.

"Obviously, we're very pleased," said Don Cheatham, a senior assistant city attorney. "We hope that this is the end of a long and costly litigation"

The city has spent more than $1.2 million defending the ordinance.

The appeal was filed by attorneys representing the Colorado Bar & Grill and The Men's Club, and at least five other large businesses helped in the effort, including the Ritz Cabaret, Treasures, Trophy Club, Gold Cup and Centerfolds. Several other businesses, including some bookstores, also joined in the appeal.


The topless bars appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the city won last August in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Then, the city was able to prove that even if sexually oriented businesses had to move, they still could stay within Houston, according to the lead attorney in the case, Patrick Andrew Zummo.

"We put on evidence that there were hundreds of locations where these businesses could move," Zummo said.

The businesses also have to be at least 1,000 feet away from each other.

The Houston Police Department has not been enforcing the distance requirement, but will begin soon, said Capt. Glenn Yorek, of the vice squad.

"We will be huddling up with the City Attorney's Office and make some sort of plan how to proceed," Yorek said.


The city remains involved in a lawsuit in state district courts with the 11 clubs that appealed to the Supreme Court. That suit involves "amortization," or the amount of time the owners should get to recoup their investments before having to close or relocate.

That trial is scheduled for April 21. Zummo said he is confident the city will prevail and get those businesses to move.

"We don't see any conceivable way that someone has not recovered their investments since 1997," he said.

Makes you wonder what might have happened had the clubs decided to move instead of fight in 1997. Not that I blame them for trying - I still think they've been screwed by the ordinance - but the path they chose was clearly a loser. We'll see if they get any relief from the state courts now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 18, 2008 to Local politics

Of course they are being screwed. I spent more than twenty years as an urban planner and zoning administrator. Ordering existing businesses to relocate or close contradicts decades of zoning law precedent and, in my view, is an extraordinarily dangerous expansion of governmental authority. The same power that was used to close strip clubs can now be legally used against any other type of business or property owner as the City Council sees fit.

Posted by: Dennis on March 19, 2008 1:10 PM
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