Pierce County officials are looking to tighten regulations to make strip club managers culpable if dancers accept tips, give lap dances, touch customers or commit acts of prostitution.
The changes also would raise annual license fees for dancers, managers and the club, and require that the building’s interior be clearly lighted.
The restrictions would affect just one business. The only strip club in unincorporated Pierce County is DreamGirls at Fox’s in Parkland.
County Auditor Julie Anderson said the changes are aimed at preventing prostitution and other criminal activity that took place under the club’s previous ownership.
Managers “need to be observing what’s going on in their club when they’re on duty,” said deputy prosecutor Cort O’Connor, who drafted the changes. “In the past, it’s been too easy for the managers to turn a blind eye.”
Tim Killian, spokesman for Deja Vu, which owns Fox’s, said the strip club chain opposes the changes and thinks they’re unnecessary.
Killian said it’s unconstitutional for the county to hold managers, who are club employees, responsible for the actions of dancers, who are independent contractors.
“Constitutionally, you can’t hold somebody else liable for the criminal activity of another,” said Killian, a public-affairs consultant who represents Deja Vu. “The county could find itself having to defend what we believe are unconstitutional clauses in this ordinance that is being proposed.”
O’Connor, the deputy prosecutor, said it’s constitutional to require managers “to make sure their club is being operated in a safe and legal manner.”
The County Council’s Rules and Operations Committee voted 2-0 Monday – without comment – to forward the revisions to the full council with a “do pass” recommendation.
The council is expected to vote in about five weeks. If approved, the changes could take effect in early December.
If dancers violate regulations under the revisions, both the dancers and managers could be charged with misdemeanors punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Dancers and managers also could lose their licenses.
Pierce County code permits dancers to perform nude in adult clubs, but only on an elevated platform at least 10 feet from any customer. Touching or tipping is prohibited.
Fox’s reopened in March with new owners, nearly two years after it was one of four notorious strip clubs in the Puget Sound area shut down for prostitution and racketeering.
DreamGirls at Fox’s operates at the back of a strip mall, sandwiched between the state Route 512 interchange and Pacific Avenue South. It is part of the DreamGirls chain of strip clubs owned by Deja Vu, which operates a club in Lakewood, one near Safeco Field and at several other locations the Seattle area.
Another proposed change would require a club to be “sufficiently illuminated so that all objects are plainly visible.” The minimum illumination is defined as 30 lux at 30 inches above the floor.
Anderson, the county auditor, said when O’Connor and her staff members visited Fox’s in April, the club was so dark “it was very difficult to even walk across the floor.”
“It’s hard to know that a lap dance is going on if you can’t see across the lobby, if you can’t see what the dancers are doing,” she said.
The lighting requirement is impractical and technically difficult to verify, Killian said. He disagreed with Anderson’s claim about the club’s darkness.
“If you go look at the club, I don’t think that statement would hold up,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got nothing to hide.”
The changes would raise annual license fees from $60 to $100 for dancers, $50 to $100 for managers and $600 to $800 for the club.
The auditor’s office has issued licenses for 163 dancers and five managers to work at Fox’s.
Anderson said the fee increases would help the county recoup more but not all of its costs for processing the applications and dealing with appeals of denials. Under DreamGirls, no license applications have been rejected, Anderson said.
Killian said it’s OK for the county to raise fees to cover its costs. But it can’t legally raise fees just to make it more difficult for clubs to open, he said.
Killian said the county should talk with Fox’s to work out any concerns.
“We’ve had no evidence since the club has been open that there’s criminal activity in a way that has been documented under the previous ownership,” he said. “So far, we’re not aware of a single violation that has occurred at the club.”
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has said that before it closed in May 2010, Fox’s was the scene of prostitution and drug use as well as shootings in its parking lot.
Fox’s was shut down after three associates of Seattle strip club boss Frank Colacurcio Sr. pleaded guilty to racketeering and prostitution at Fox’s and three other strip clubs in Seattle, Shoreline and Everett that also closed.