Tuesday, May 14, 2002
U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Ruling on Adult Business Ban
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the City of Los Angeles may have had strong enough evidence to justify banning more than one sex-related business from operating under the same roof, and that a federal judge in Los Angeles was wrong to invalidate the ban.
Four justices found the city had done enough to bolster its argument that what it called “sex superstores” have negative side effects on the surrounding neighborhood and should be banned. The four include the court’s three most conservative members, joined by swing voter Sandra Day O’Connor.
“The city of Los Angeles may reasonably rely on a study it conducted some years before enacting the present version of [the law] to demonstrate that its ban on multiple-use adult establishments serves its interest in reducing crime,” O’Connor wrote for herself, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
While Justice Anthony M. Kennedy opposed the lower court’s ruling, he was ambivalent on whether the ordinance should be upheld, meaning the case sent back for further study or full trial.
Dissenting were the court’s more liberal justices: John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
The Los Angeles City Planning Department conducted a study on adult businesses in 1977 that concluded that a concentration of adult businesses in one area lead to increased crime and lower property values.
Based on the findings, the City Council in 1978 passed a zoning ordinance blocking adult business from being within 1,000 feet of one another. The ordinance also prohibited such businesses from existing within 500 feet of a church, school, or public park.
The ordinance was expanded in 1983 to prevent single adult store locations from expanding to conduct multiple businesses under one roof.
Alameda Books, Inc. and Highland Books, two businesses banned by the new law, brought suit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in 1995. The trial court sided with the stores against the city ordinance in a summary judgement motion.
The court decided that the city did not have reasonable evidence from the 1977 study to apply the ordinance to multiple use businesses.
Los Angeles attorney John H. Weston, who represented the two adult movie stores, compared them to movie theaters or beauty shops where patrons can visit one location and use multiple services.
“We’re not talking about a car wash and a furniture store,” Weston, of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt, said.
Weston said the businesses operated movie sales and rentals, but also had viewing rooms where customers could preview
Michael L. Klekner of the City Attorney’s Office disputed the notion that the study did not specifically address multiple businesses operating in one location.
“The logic is suspect,” Klekner said. “It should make no difference if [the businesses] are side by side, or you tear down the walls and make them one.”
Klekner argued that the effects that a concentration of adult businesses would have for an area are the same even if the businesses are under one roof.
Klekner said that as far as he knew, the two businesses were still operating. Alameda Books is located on Alameda Street near Union Station, and Highland Books is in Hollywood, on Santa Monica Boulevard.
“We feel we have enough in the 1977 study to support the closing of the loophole in 1983,” Klekner said.
Weston called the Supreme Court’s ruling, which sends the case back to the Ninth Circuit, an “affirmation of First Amendment principles, which the city wanted the courts to ignore.”
The ruling means that the city can continue to defend the ban against challenges from adult businesses that claim the law is an unconstitutional limit on free speech.
The case is Los Angeles v. Alameda Books, 00-799.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company