Feel Coppers

The city council weighs a serious new sex law

In the middle of the day when I visited Rizos' place, it was pretty sedate--lots of late middle-aged businessmen sipping drinks quietly at tables, staring up admiringly at almost-naked girls onstage, kind of like assisted living for leches. I'm told it gets more lively at night when the men younger than myself show up.

I asked Rizos if she could stay in business under the proposed rules. "I don't see how," she said. She indicated that the concept of a cop on a stool in the middle of the club with binoculars and a camera might have a debilitating effect on some clients. I bet. A stiff breeze from the door could do the same.

Rizos represents the industry's most civilized and sophisticated face in Dallas. The tougher face is the Burch brothers, owners of Baby Dolls, the Bachman club that was the main focus of neighborhood ire until the recently announced deal. They wouldn't speak for attribution but said through a representative that they will sue the city to prevent implementation of the ordinance being considered.

Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson is proposing new laws to make Dallas the most straitlaced, sexually restrictive town this side of Wichita Falls.
Peter Calvin
Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson is proposing new laws to make Dallas the most straitlaced, sexually restrictive town this side of Wichita Falls.

The impact of the ordinance, should it be enacted, would be revolutionary, certainly making Dallas one of the most straitlaced American cities this side of Wichita Falls. This new offensive says that we as a community want to see and control everything that happens inside the city's sex shops and that we want to put people in jail if they touch scantily clad women.

The ultimate irony is that none of this is probably coming originally from moral motivation. A lot of it is straight business, propelled from behind the scenes by major industrial property owners worried about the churn effect of the recent deal at Bachman. In the Stemmons Industrial corridor, landholders have been dreaming in recent years of chic redevelopment along the Trinity River. Now the sex clubs are on the move and looking for legal locations, and Stemmons owners have noticed that the clubs could locate legally in the area between the Stemmons Freeway and the Trinity River northwest of downtown. Two are already there, including Silver City, where former Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Goodrich did his drinking last January before killing two Good Samaritans in a hit-and-run freeway accident.

Gregg Hamill, a director of the Stemmons Corridor Business Association, doesn't deny that long-term owners in the corridor would like to prevent more clubs from moving their way. He cites the city's own real estate consultant who he says proved that, "Wherever a sexually oriented business is located, crime goes up, property values deteriorate, legitimate businesses move out. From a business standpoint, in terms of business impact...it's all negative."

And please allow me to declare a few personal biases and bona fides here. I have always written to defend the rights of neighborhoods to fight back against noxious sex clubs in their midst. Many of the Bachman warriors are heroes of mine. Along with a lot of people in Dallas, I rejoiced two months ago when it looked as if they had finally rid themselves of the bulk of their problem, and I thought the city attorney deserved serious kudos for pulling off a deal when the courts had given the city so little comfort over the years.

And this: If homeowners have a right to push back against sex club operators, then so should any other landowners, including people holding big industrial parcels that they may hope to redevelop.

That said, it's important not to get confused about what's unfolding here. In the months ahead, we will see a ferocious debate at City Hall about whether a man smoking cigars and drinking whiskey behind closed doors, far away from homes, schools and hospitals, should be allowed to touch the flesh of a near-naked woman. If the city council agrees he should not, then that means you and I, through the mechanism of our hired agents, the police, must go sit on the peeper perch in all of the city's sex clubs and make sure nobody cops a feel. And then you and I will be asked to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars again, millions eventually, to defend the peeper perch in court.

I admit I harbor suspicions of people who seem to me too avid to know the details of other people's sex lives. I suspect, unfairly or not, that as soon as the rest of us are out of view, they strip off their clothes, doff their scanty Peter Pan costumes and run around the room shrieking, "We can fly! We can fly!"

But that's OK by me, too. Above all else, I cherish my right not to know. So right now I'm really worried.

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