Court Upholds Houston Anti-Adult Ordinance

HOUSTON - In what religio-conservative group Focus on the Family is calling "an aggressive assault on Houston's sex businesses," a federal court has now entered its final ruling denying Houston retailers and club owners relief from a 1997 law that significantly toughens restrictions on where adult-oriented businesses are allowed to operate.
According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, as many as 150 adult businesses could be forced to relocate or close, and in the interim, their employees may face arrest, but First Amendment attorney John Weston, who headed the original legal team fighting the ordinance, says that neither possibility is likely to happen in the near future.

"Yes, we lost at the district court level," Weston told, "but we're going into the Fifth Circuit early next week to file our appeal and a motion to stay enforcement of the ordinance."

City officials, however, are anxious for the ordinance to take effect.

"Now is the time for them to move," Mayor Bill White told the Chronicle. "We're going to enforce the law."

The decade-old ordinance would double the distance required between adult businesses and schools, parks and churches. It also has provisions against such businesses — including topless clubs, modeling studios and adult bookstores — locating near residential areas, or clustering together.

The bill has been on hold during a decade-long federal court battle, but U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas recently ruled against the adult businesses, which ruling, if unchallenged further, would mean that the city can begin enforcing is ordinancet, with no grandfathering provisions that would protect existing businesses.   

The city's announced intention to enforce the ordinance is the latest move in its continuing battle against sex businesses, as courts recently approved other provisions in the complex ordinance, such as requiring performers to get licenses and to keep a 3-foot distance from customers.

The city has said that it will send out notifications to the adult business owners that if they do not comply with the ordinance, they could be arrested on a Class A misdemeanor, according to the report.

Weston said that such notices were to be expected, but that it will be up to the Court of Appeals as to whether the owners will be required to comply with them.

The city, however, plans to move speedily to enforce the ordinance if the appeals court allows it to do so.

"We're still trying to finalize our game plan," Houston police Captain Steve Jett told the Chronicle. "It's being strategically planned to do it effectively."

"Although it is clear that certain plaintiffs may experience significant expense and potential lost profits if the city enforces the ordinance and plaintiffs are required to relocate their businesses, the court is unpersuaded that this injury justifies granting the requested relief," judge Atlas wrote in her verdict.

"I've been trying not to think about it," Charles Sarpy, a manager at Club Exotica, told the Chronicle of the impending crackdown.

Among his employees, he said, are single mothers and college students attracted to the business by the high pay and flexible hours.

"If they close these clubs down, it's going to put a lot of people out of work."