Taking a page from George Orwell, the Scottsdale City Council decided Monday to toughen its Sexually Oriented Business Ordinance in a manner that well could drive the city’s two topless bars out of business.
The premise the council relied upon in its unanimous decision was that the courts give it and other cities’ authorities the green light to crack down on such businesses because of what might happen, not what is happening.
What is happening? Not much. No evidence was presented at Monday’s council meeting and public testimony was far, far from persuasive that Babe’s Cabaret and Skin Cabaret are causing any precipitous decline in public morality or are responsible for noticeable upticks in local criminality. Both decades-old clubs have operated under various names in south Scottsdale with hardly a chirp from residents or city officials. Only in the past few months have police done any serious investigating of activity inside these clubs — due in part to revelations by the Tribune that they hadn’t been.
We repeat again that we lack fondness for these kinds of establishments. But they are legal businesses. Once businesses are overregulated based on whether they represent a “family-friendly” community (these were Mayor Mary Manross’ words Monday), that community starts heading down the slippery slope where liberty is sacrificed to mere conformity.
By hiring an attorney who specializes in crafting the language of such crackdowns and then approving virtually all of his outlined changes to the ordinance, Scottsdale’s leaders asserted that there are “secondary negative effects” to such a business, no matter how law-abiding. These effects, therefore, are to be prevented as they might happen, a cousin, at least, to Orwell’s characterization of “thoughtcrime.”
Of course, non-issues often become issues when emerges a catalyst who only adds a name and reputation, but no substance, to the situation. That catalyst, of course, is adult-film star and now producer Jenna Jameson of Paradise Valley, who a few months ago bought a share of Babe’s. To some at City Hall, Jameson and her partners certainly must represent not just one small, windowless building on Scottsdale Road, but the entire porn industry marching into Scottsdale. Had she not bought a share of Babe’s, it is quite likely that this controversy would have never arisen.
But now it has.
While the council might have been correct to review and update its decade-old ordinance to reflect recent judicial decisions, it went on to rules governing dancers’ performances that will make it markedly difficult for these clubs to remain in business — whether council members want to admit that or not.
One of the easiest ways to commit abuse of power is for those in power to assert that they know better than the rest of us. This is what the council did.
And so the bigger concern is not whether topless bars survive in Scottsdale or elsewhere in the East Valley, but what other socially undesirable business may be targeted next. And so the moral to Monday night’s supposedly court-approved leap by government into moral authority is the old adage: Just because you have the right to do it, doesn’t mean it’s right to do it.