Strip Club Zoning in Springfield

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Strip Club Zoning in Springfield
by Griffin Funk, EDN

A black leather sofa is positioned in the back of Phil’s Clubhouse. A stripper, identifying herself only as Jessica, says guys don’t like getting lap dances on it. It’s too public, too bright. Not intimate enough.

Jessica dances to Glycerine by Bush. The sound of heels clacking together compensates for the lack of drums on the track. When her song ends, she crawls around the stage on her hands and knees, scooping dollar bills into a pile.

Gateways High School in Springfield Ore., resides less than a half-mile away from Phil’s Clubhouse. The man in a bolo tie, sipping Jim Beam and twirling the fake blonde hair of a girl half his age, is five blocks away from a high school.

Proposed legislation in the Oregon House and Senate would more strictly regulate the location of strip clubs and adult stores. The legislation would change Oregon’s free speech provision. Potentially forcing strip clubs in Springfield out from around the high school.

This issue has spread throughout the United States. Legislators in Kansas have proposed an Act that would limit the hours and location of sexually oriented businesses, forbid total nudity within them and create a “no touch” law that would apply to staff and patrons. Oak Harbor Was., passed three laws last year banning public nudity and confining sexually oriented businesses to within city limits.  Councilors in Waterville Maine, are currently debating a temporary ban on adult businesses to deal with its recent increase of strip clubs, adult bookstores and topless coffee shops.

This is not a new issue in Oregon. Similar legislation has been proposed – 1994, 1996, and 2000 – and was rejected by voters all three times. Oregon’s free speech law has broader wording than the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Oregon courts have interpreted the law to protect certain forms of obscenity. Dubbing it personal expression.

Jessica’s shaking, bending, rubbing and grinding falls under this.

Two legislative options are proposed. The first would replace Oregon’s free speech law with the more strictly worded First Amendment. The second would specifically exclude strip clubs and adult businesses from reaping the protection of Oregon’s free speech law.

According to a study conducted by Exotic Magazine, an adult industry trade publication, Portland had 7.4 strip clubs per 100,000 people in 2005. Las Vegas had 5.8 and San Francisco: 2.2. Springfield has 5 strip clubs for its 55,000 residents.Neil Laudati, Public Information Officer for the city of Springfield says, “Citizens tend to believe that strip clubs bring around customers that are not necessarily desired by the surrounding community.”Springfield was incorrectly labeled “The Strip Club Capital of the U.S.” in Parade Magazine’s “By the Numbers” feature on May 1st of this year. The nationally distributed magazine later retracted the claim, removing the information from its website.Laudati was happy about the retraction. He says, “There is a stereotype that exists about Springfield. People think you can do whatever you want [here”]in Springfield and people won’t care. And that is simply not true.” He went on to say, “Children want to grow up and become part of the community and are faced with this false stereotype.”Laudati says, “When you think of where strip clubs are usually, they are on state highways, in industrial areas and downtown, well that pretty much sums up Main Street. We also happen to have two high schools in this area.

A girl with a tongue piercing and blurry tattoos walks around Phil’s Clubhouse. She asks men if they would like what she calls a dollar dance: A dollar’s worth of crotch grinding and faux-heavy breathing.

This walking around and working the crowd is what Jessica has dubbed ‘The Hustle’ and it accounts for almost all the money she makes. Scanning the crowd, making eye contact, smiling. Seeing who is staring at her. Seeing who wants to stare at her closer, and for money. Turning an intoxicated man eating a platter of nachos into a man willing to pay her $20 for a glorified version of dry humping. It’s all part of the hustle.

Ultimately these girls are working, attempting to siphon as much cash out of the patrons as possible.

Proponents for the changing of the law believe that strip clubs should not be around schools or neighborhoods. They believe that citizens should be able to shape what their neighborhoods look like.

Opponents to the change believe that freedom of expression is an integral part of Oregon’s identity and further, government should not have the power to censor speech that it does not like. Even if that speech involves six-inch heels and glow-in-the-dark G-strings.

Michael Harman, Services Bureau Manager for the Springfield Police Department, said “I can’t say that I have seen a connection between strip clubs and crime necessarily….most of those business owners find it in their own best interests to keep their establishments fairly quiet.  The problems generally come from places that don’t monitor alcohol sales well.”

Laudati said, “We closed Bar 420 last year and have seen an immense drop in crime. You would see people standing outside that place at all times of day. I have no idea how many drug deals went on in and around there.” He continues “so is it the bars that have stripping or bars in general that are the problem?”

A 2006 study, conducted by Seattle based strip clubs, analyzed eight years of police responses in Seattle and found that, “Crime does not tend to accompany, concentrate around, or be aggravated by these adult businesses.”

Laudati, a native to Las Vegas, says, “If you went to a certain part of town [in Las Vegas] you knew what kind of businesses would be there. While in Oregon, an adult bookstore could be around the corner from your house.”

Springfield currently treats strip clubs as they would any other business. The current zoning regulation says strip clubs can be anywhere. “There is no regulation on their location in relation to schools.” Laudati said.

A constitutional amendment instilled by the Legislature would require majority votes in the House and Senate as well as voter approval in November 2012. Such legislation has failed to be approved throughout the last three decades.

Jessica, whose stage name is Andromeda, recalls a group of high school aged girls yelling “Put some clothes on!” from across the street. Jessica says, “I wish people knew that 90 percent of the girls working here are paying for school or supporting a family.” She shivers, pulling a beach towel tighter around her bare shoulders.

No matter the motive for stripping or the general banality or malignance of these types of establishments, the debate over where strip clubs should be located continues. Both sides of the argument, some folding dollar bills, some packing lunches for school field trips, eagerly await new developments.

Jessica shoots a smile at the man in cargo shorts and flip-flops at the bar, his hands-free Bluetooth still around his ear. She walks over to him, braless. They hug. She whispers something into his ear and grabs his hand. She walks toward the back of the club: where it is dark, and intimate and about 2,000 ft. away from a high school. He follows.

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