Signs outside Parkland strip club and sports bar are illegal, Pierce County says

If you’ve traveled along Pacific Avenue South in Parkland lately, you can’t miss the electronic message sign beckoning customers to a strip club using photos of scantily clad women.

The sign is one of the largest of its type in Pierce County, not including signs on sovereign tribal trust land along Interstate 5 in Tacoma. Two members of the public have filed complaints to the county about it.

“There are closeups of nearly naked women in sexual poses,” one complainant wrote. “I don’t want my teenagers to see this, nor my 8-year-old. I don’t want to see it, my husband doesn’t want to see it.”

The sign itself is legal. The conflict is over how it is being operated — including how fast its images flashed past.

By Friday, operators of the sign had made several changes that appeared to put the sign in compliance with county code.

Mark Luppino, code enforcement officer, was last there Wednesday and said the sign was one of several for DreamGirls at Fox’s and the Pole Position Sports Bar next door that violated county code.

Pierce County cited the property owner with three sign code violations and ordered them corrected within 15 days. The owner failed to make changes and was fined $1,000 Friday by code enforcement, Luppino said.

A spokesman for the businesses said Wednesday they would comply with the county’s order.

The sign problem has arisen as County Councilman Jim McCune, R-Graham, pushes for stricter scrutiny and regulation of Fox’s and other sexually oriented businesses in unincorporated Pierce County.

McCune said he will propose a code addition in November prohibiting a liquor license being issued for any business within a 1,000 feet of a strip club or on the same parcel. Pole Position would be grandfathered because it already exists.

He also said he will propose requiring adult dancers to watch a video on human sex trafficking and receive information on what conduct is legal when dancing.

McCune said his goal is to regulate businesses that contribute to crime.

The property owner on Pacific Avenue has a permit for the 12-by-5-foot electronic message sign, which rises 24 feet above the ground on a pole. But the county said the electronic sign violated code in two ways.

The sign flipped through different messages — some for the club and others for the bar — and the frames changed faster than the maximum allowed rate of once every eight seconds.

Luppino also said the sign contained video and scrolled images, which also are prohibited.

The electronic display included images of two women, one barely covered in a top and bottom. Those images were not explicit enough to violate code, but the movement of images and text across the screen was illegal, the county said.

On Friday, images and text were no longer moving across the screen. Frames were changing about every eight seconds. There was no video or scrolled images. Several still photos of scantily clad women had been added.

Some static signs for the sports bar and the strip club also violated code, the county said:

• Pole Position Sports Bar has a permit for the words “Pole Position” but needs one for “Sports Bar.”

• The figure of a bikini-clad woman holding a checkered flag violates code because it extends above the roof line.

• Two portable billboard signs on a flatbed trailer — one for the strip club and one for the sports bar — are not allowed because they’re mounted on a vehicle.

Tim Killian, spokesman for Fox’s and Pole Position, said the two businesses are working with the county to resolve the sign issues.

“We don’t see these as big issues, and we’re going to comply with every regulation required by Pierce County sign code and are working with them to resolve any ongoing issues,” Killian said. “We don’t intend to fight them or challenge them in any way.”

Pole Position opened next to Fox’s last winter on the property at 10707 Pacific Ave. S. Strip clubs are not allowed to serve alcohol.

Killian said the two businesses are jointly owned. The property owner is listed in licensing information as a separate entity, 2011T LLC.

In late August, a Parkland resident complained about the electronic sign in an email to County Councilman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood.

The woman wrote she was “infuriated at the content of the sign, and don’t feel I (others) should have to see it just because I’m (they’re) driving by or stuck facing it while at the traffic light.”

Her complaint led to the review by the county’s code compliance operation.

A separate complaint in McCune’s name was filed with code compliance Sept. 12 about the frequency of image changes for the electronic message sign and the additional violations for Pole Position, according to the case file obtained by The News Tribune through a public records request.

McCune said the complaint was filed by council staff on his behalf. He added the violations for the Pole Position signs.

His concerns about community morality and crime are part of a larger campaign for the first-term councilman. He said he also wants to regulate bikini baristas as adult businesses when they violate county code.

McCune already has introduced changes that would require the county to revise and enforce regulations on the sales of adult magazines and DVDs in convenience stores.

In response to McCune’s proposals, Sheriff Paul Pastor and deputy prosecutor Tim Lewis spoke to a council committee Sept. 30 about the effect of sexually oriented businesses on crime. They came at the request of council staff.

Most of the talk revolved around Fox’s, the only strip club in unincorporated Pierce County.

Pastor said he can’t tell if Fox’s is contributing substantially to crime on Pacific Avenue because data hasn’t been separated for crimes committed at or near the club. Pastor said he would have that data sorted out.

Lewis, head of the county’s misdemeanor division, said he’s not aware of any data on crime connected to Fox’s since the club reopened in March 2012 under new owners. Fox’s was closed for illegal activity under previous ownership in 2010.

He also said he’s not aware of any dancer at Fox’s filing a police report regarding sexual assault in recent years. But he said there’s “no doubt in my mind” that performers are solicited for sex and potentially threatened.

Lewis said crimes involving strip clubs are generally under-reported.

The County Council previously tightened some regulations for Fox’s operations.

In December 2012, it approved making strip club managers criminally responsible if dancers break rules by performing lap dances, handling tips or soliciting prostitution. It also required a strip club’s interior to be clearly lighted.

The changes took place three months after an undercover investigation found that dancers at Fox’s committed several violations including taking tips, performing lap dances, touching customers and in one instance soliciting prostitution, according to Sheriff’s Department reports.