Sexually Disoriented

Politics -- not logic -- drove Council to enact the new jury-rigged SOB ordinance

Other HPD records show a total number of 45 calls for all service at the Colorado during the same time period plus two months. By contrast, a nearby Target had 322 calls, the City Streets multiplex of bars had 176, and the Richmond Strip nightclub Peter's Wildlife had 521.

Colorado president Bob Furey and other club owners complain that it's easier for vice officers to party in topless clubs than make arrests in low-rent SOBs. They're right: From July 1995 to June 1996, 332 out of 517 SOB arrests were in topless clubs. A vice squad report indicates that officers spent $33,665 to make those 332 cases, 255 of which were for public lewdness. (Roberts says officers have testified to spending as much as $800 to make a single case. Nelson Hensley, another SOB lawyer, disputes the $33,665 figure as ridiculously low.)

Twenty of the 517 arrests were for prostitution. The vice squad says that 59 percent of dancer arrests lead to convictions, but that figure includes deferred adjudications, where the case never goes to trial. Of the cases brought to trial, only one in five leads to a conviction, Furey says. The report did not list the number of drug-related cases, though vice officers told the committee that there were rampant drug problems in SOBs -- one even said some clubs sold cocaine to customers.

"Either we believe the police, or we don't believe the police," said Boney, who in the late 1980s claimed he was the victim of an HPD frame-up after he was arrested for cocaine possession at a southeast-side doughnut shop.

Statistics aside, the city has been able to convince the courts that SOBs are detrimental to neighborhoods by using studies done in other cities, studies which may not apply to staunchly upscale Texas clubs. Pastor Prescott admits that the Ritz's proximity hasn't adversely affected his church, school or daycare. Boulevard Oaks resident and anti-SOB activist Karen Payne, who found that after-hours dance club Tantra had more complaints than its neighbor Rick's (both are owned by Robert Watters), says a nightclub in her neighborhood would upset her nearly as much as an SOB. But, Payne, who describes herself as "just a mom," feels confident the new ordinance will do its job.

If so, it won't be until the courts get through with it. The first thing the SOBs will do is seek an injunction, and they're likely to get it. In fact, the city's previous SOB ordinance is the subject of a six-year legal contest currently awaiting a federal judge's ruling. After the ordinance was last revised in 1991, 25 bookstores challenged the ordinance on the grounds that it imposed zoning in a non-zoning city and violated First Amendment rights.

"Any reasonable lawmaker would have waited to see if the current law could stand up," says Roberts.

The city, however, believes the new ordinance is airtight.
"We will not lose," city attorney Gene Locke assured a concerned Council prior to its approval of the ordinance.

Instead of waiting to see how the judge rules, the city has hedged its bets: Since the 1991 ordinance grandfathered existing businesses with respect to their distance from one another, the current ordinance includes the same provision. (New SOBs have to be 1,000 feet from one another, thus preventing the formation of a red-light district.) Not that Huey could be persuaded to wait. To the discomfort of several of her colleagues, Huey was intent on ramrodding the legislation through before the January 18 referendum on a city charter change requiring voter approval of tax and fee increases. If Council had waited, and the tax-limit proposition had been approved, the new fees in the ordinance -- which in some cases are more than triple what they were -- would have had to be okayed by voters.

Bob Furey has the grayish complexion of a man who spends too much time indoors. The week before the ordinance passed, Furey was looking out the window of the Colorado lobby, watching a serviceman test five different types of red light bulbs in its 51-foot, $150,000, Las Vegas-style sign to see which will weather best. (The sign, which was left by the building's former occupants and improved by the Colorado, will be illegal in less than 120 days.)

Furey is waiting with a borrowed light meter to demonstrate how the club's light levels change from inch to inch, making it very difficult to get a consistent overall measurement. If Furey seems preoccupied with minute detail, it's because the SOB committee spent much of its final, daylong meeting niggling over items such as a new minimum lighting requirement of one foot-candle (the brightness of a candle from one foot away) and a so-called "three-foot rule" that would prohibit dancers from getting within three feet of their clients while in a state of undress.

Calling these provisions "attorney relief ordinances" because of the difficulty of proving them in court, Councilman Ray Driscoll proposed two amendments that would be the first and last of the day: eliminate them. The lighting stricture stayed in; the three-foot rule was jettisoned by a 4-3 vote. At the full Council meeting the next day, Councilwoman Martha Wong, who did not serve on the committee, promptly tried to reinstate it, warning in dire tones that without the provision "a woman is allowed to get within one quarter-inch of a male body!"

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