City hopes to resolve porn shop dispute

Law would give owners five years to comply

Tyler Tjomsland photo

The exterior of Hollywood Erotic Boutique is seen Friday from the sidewalk on Division Street in north Spokane.

January 5, 2013

Two porn shops in north Spokane that have operated in what the city calls a violation of its laws for nearly a decade would get a five-year reprieve under a proposed ordinance aimed at ending a long and costly string of lawsuits.

The city has battled the corporation that owns Hollywood Erotic Boutique for nearly a decade over strict rules the City Council created in 2001 and 2003 on adult-themed stores selling sexually explicit materials.

“We’re talking about putting some sunset provisions in the law so that these businesses have a nice soft landing as they go away,” said City Attorney Nancy Isserlis.

City law bans adult bookstores within 750 feet of residential and commercial zones, schools, religious institutions, libraries, day care centers or other porn stores. Hollywood claimed the rules violated its free speech rights, but city officials have been successful in most court battles with the store. Even so, city officials say, Hollywood continues violating the law. Hollywood has two locations within city limits: 3813 N. Division Street and 54 E. Wellesley Ave.

The city’s most recent attempt to win compliance is a lawsuit filed in 2010 in federal court.

City leaders have grown weary of the expense of continuing to wage a legal battle. It has hired Milt Rowland, a former assistant city attorney, to handle most of the lawsuit. Some city officials hope amending the ordinance will lead to a settlement of the legal proceedings.

“With staff and legal fees, we’re in excess of $500,000 if not over $1 million,” said City Council President Ben Stuckart, who said he supports a settlement. “I’d rather have cops on the street than keep fighting this lawsuit.”

Hollywood is owned by CAWA Corp. When the stores opened in the Spokane area in the late 1990s, a Spokesman-Review article said they were owned by Jim Sicilia, of California. Records indicate that the Sicilia family remains involved in the corporation.

Gilbert Levy, the Seattle attorney representing CAWA, declined to comment on the case.

Earlier this year, City Council members were briefed on a proposal to allow the adult stores that were open prior to the law changes to stay in business indefinitely. Stuckart said that plan did not appear to have much support.

“I believe our ordinance is legal and I believe our ordinance should be enforced,” said Councilman Steve Salvatori, who added that he could support a settlement if it only allowed the adult bookstores to remain out of compliance temporarily.

Last month, the City Plan Commission was briefed on an ordinance that would give existing noncompliant adult stores five more years to comply. Mike Ekins, chairman of the Plan Commission, said the ordinance likely will be considered again later this month, when it could decide if it will recommend the change to the City Council.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she’s more open to a settlement if there is an assurance that the law would have to be followed, at least at some point.

“The biggest issue I had with the original proposal is that it would have grandfathered them forever,” she said.

In its federal lawsuit against CAWA, the city contended that adult stores tried to work around the original 2001 ordinance by stocking nonpornographic material that was not intended to be sold in attempt to argue that adult-themed products weren’t a substantial part of their businesses. As a result, the City Council changed the law in 2003 to define adult-themed stores as ones that devote 30 percent or more of their inventory or floor space to sexually explicit materials or receive 30 percent or more of their sales from those products.

The Hollywood store on Division still has a section of nonpornographic DVDs, including episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Petticoat Junction.” Those are next to a large selection of sex toys.

Officials believe that other stores along Division that sell adult-themed products, like Lovers and Adam and Eve, likely are in compliance because they emphasize lingerie and confine “adult-themed products” to a portion of the stores. They also abide by the rule requiring that adult-themed stores close by 2 a.m. The Hollywood store’s sign says it closes at 4 a.m.

Map of this story's location

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