Saturday, May 12, 2007

Houston Sex Ordinance Upheld; Clubs and Bookstores Effectively Outlawed

Typically Houston has been paranoid about any measure which might constitute zoning, even a little bit. Houston is the largest city not just in the United States but in the entire world which does NOT have an organized property use zoning code and enforcement bureau. This lack of bureaucracy is in no small part responsible both for the prosperity of the city and its unique nature.

But if anything could be the camel's nose in the tent in Houston, it's sex.

Ten years ago the Houston city council, led by a strange coalition of Democratic feminists and Republican religious conservatives, passed a new and highly restrictive ordinance to limit where any sexually oriented business may operate. As reported in the Houston Chronicle, with a ruling by a Federal court upholding the ordinance in full, Mayor Bill White- elected nonpartisan but strongly associated with the Democratic Party- has pledged aggressive enforcement of the ordinance, shutting down 120 or more businesses.

Sex industry advocates estimate that between 9,000 to 12,000 people will lose their jobs as a result of this law.

Here's the ordinance itself. Salient points:

* Permits are good only for one year, cost over $400 for initial application, and about $250 for renewal.

* There is no grandfather clause whatever.

* No sexually oriented business- no strip club, no massage parlor, no nude modeling studio, no adult novelty store (except clothing, clothing's specifically exempt), and no adult bookstore- may operate within 1500 feet- a bit more than a quarter mile- of the property line of any school, church, public park, or day-care center. (For example, if a school district owns a vacant lot, say as a result of foreclosure for failure to pay property taxes, then any adult business within a quarter-mile of any corner of that lot is in violation.)

* No adult business may be within 1000 feet of any other adult business.

* If 75% of the property tracts within a 1500 foot radius of the adult business are residential- with apartment buildings counting as one tract per apartment- then the business is in violation. This includes land with no improvements whatever which has been platted for future residential development or otherwise designated as residential by ordinance.

* Adult businesses must be painted all one color, and no bright colors may be used- only grays, browns, or earth tones.

* Adult businesses may not have neon signs, flashing signs, or indeed any sign except plain rectangular signs with all text the same size, color, and typeface- and furthermore only the name of the business and one of a short list of descriptive phrases may appear on the sign. Billboard ads are absolutely prohibited.

* Dancers working at adult businesses must wear a badge showing their personal license at all times; furthermore, their actual names, addresses, and telephone numbers will be made available upon request to all comers at Vice Squad headquarters in accordances with the Texas Open Records Act.

And yet the people (those still living) who wrote this ordinance, and who still back it, claim their purpose is NOT to destroy such businesses.

(Oh, one other note: one of the businesses sent a cease-and-desist warning this week was a Hyatt hotel- specifically the Hyatt Regency Houston downtown. That hotel had got a permit under older ordinances to host a party which featured nude entertainment. It's turned the old permit in and announced a no-nudity policy for events. In effect, all adult entertainment industry and other similar events have just been outlawed from the city of Houston.)

So, considering the Houston city council is dominated by Democrats, considering the original authors of the ordinance in 1997 were Democrats... why is it the vast majority of sexual professionals continue to vote Democrat?

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