Scottsdale Council Votes to Allow Lap Dancing

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The Scottsdale City Council unanimously approved a new adult business ordinance that allows lap dancing and "on-person or in-costume" tipping in strip clubs. The council's decision resolves a long-running local debate centering on two local businesses, Babe's Cabaret and Skin Cabaret.

First Amendment attorney Paul Cambria played a key role in drafting the new ordinance as chief counsel for Babe's, which is partly owned by AVN Hall of Famer Jenna Jameson.

"We're quite pleased with the results," Cambria told AVN. "We went through the entire referendum process, and we were successful in defeating the law that had been spearheaded by Scott Bergthold, who is an attorney who basically hires himself out as an adult entertainment killer. After that, the city attorneys were most cooperative in attempting to work out our differences in terms of what legislation we could live with, and what they could live with. Myself, my partner Roger Wilcox and John Weston, who represented Skin Cabaret, proposed a number of statutory provisions, and yesterday when I was in Scottsdale, I negotiated the last two bumps in the road that we had with the city over language. We came up with kind of a mutual draft, which the council passed 7-0. Even our greatest detractor, Mayor Mary Manross, signed on board this particular statute."

The city first attempted to crack down on the clubs in 2005, hiring Bergthold to draft an extremely restrictive ordinance that included a ban on nudity and a mandatory 4-foot distance between dancers and patrons. Although the council approved the restrictions, voters defeated that proposal in September 2006.

The new ordinance allows dancers to perform nude if they abide by certain stage restrictions, or with pasties and a G-string without any stage restrictions (as is the case at Babe's.) In addition, the ordinance extends hours of operation until 2 AM, and modifies a requirement regarding the ability to surveil the areas where dancing occurs.

"In the past, in a lot of municipalities the laws are so expansive that police officers take the mere fact of the lap dance as improper conduct," Cambria noted. "We specifically had that excluded. The conduct prohibited does not include incidental touching or the contact between the dancer's butt and the patron's lap, which is very important because this eliminates the ability for police officers who have the inclination to harass the dancers, patrons and club owners by trying to claim that the mere touching was some kind of improper conduct. The other thing that we've added to this statute is that the touching that's prohibited must be done with the intent to excite or stimulate; it has to be something more than mere touching or the ordinary kind of excitement or arousal that may occur just from observing a dance."

The Scottsdale council vote is notable in that council members opposed to adult entertainment reversed their stance on the issue in response to public opinion.

"I guess I have changed my mind because of the vote of the people in the community," Councilman Wayne Ecton told the East Valley Tribune. "I'm not a prude and I recognize these things go on and let's move ahead and get it behind us."

Mayor Manross said she would support the council's decision despite her opposition.

"I'm going to support them because I think the best message we can send is that we are a united council," Manross said. "My concern all along for the 15 years I have been here is the quality of life in this city."

"This case had so many chapters in it that it turned out to represent the best and the worst of government," Cambria said. "In the beginning, we had some individuals, including Scott Bergthold, who were trying to micro-manage businesses in the community; then, we had a referendum that allowed people to have a voice in government; and then, we have the council responding to that voice by having the city attorney cooperate with us in drafting something that everybody can live with. As it turned out, it's a very progressive statute, and the council is to be commended for listening to the public and responding the way they did."

Cambria told AVN the lessons learned through his experience in Scottsdale could prove useful in the current fight against anti-adult legislation in Ohio.

"We learned a lot of things when we did our referendum in Scottsdale," Cambria said. "I went to eight focus group sessions, and it was a real eye-opener in terms of the issues voters respond favorably to – there's a real science to it. We had a very effective public relations person, Lamar Whitmer, who was indispensable at delivering good media coverage, good relations with the city. It's like being a politician but for an issue; politicians know how to get elected, and lawyers who do these referendums have to know how to get their issue accepted.

"We discovered that people relate less to freedom and constitutional issues than they do government micro-managing small businesses," Cambria continued. "You cast a wider net if you're saying, 'How can we let government micro-manage these small businesses? Yours will be next - your gas station, your fish tackle store, your convenience store. They'll be dictating your hours of operation, how to display your goods...' That has a much wider appeal than telling people, 'Hey, let us sell adult movies', because a number of people just won't expend the effort to vote if it doesn't affect them directly."