WAPATO — The Wapato City Council is expected to act Monday on one of two proposed ordinances governing adult businesses.
One puts strict licensing requirements on business owners and their employees, while the other restricts any such businesses from locating within 1,000 feet of a school, church or park. The second option would effectively prohibit adult businesses from the 1.78-square-mile city.
The proposed ordinance focusing on licensing requirements details how such businesses should operate, and would prohibit physical contact between dancers and patrons and require background checks of the business owner and all employees. The ordinance also sets annual license fees of $700 for the business and $100 for each manager and employee.
Mayor Jesse Farias said the council began looking at ordinances after the owner of a local bar said he wants to start a strip club. He said there are no laws on the city’s books governing such operations.
“I was concerned about it and that’s why I brought it to the City Council’s attention,” Farias said.
Ignacio Martinez, who owns Martinez Sports Bar at 116 W. Second St., wants to start a strip club, Farias said. Martinez’s bar is adjacent to the Filipino Community Hall and the Wapato Buddhist Church.
Martinez directed questions about his proposed strip club to his son, Junior Martinez, who didn’t return several phone calls seeking comment Friday.
Farias said he wants to avoid the problems Yakima ran into when it refused businessman Jamie Muffett a business license for a strip club proposed for South First Street. City officials said a strip club was not compatible with area businesses. But a federal judge in June ruled that the city erred in denying Muffett a business license, essentially violating his constitutional rights. The judge said the city needs to draft specific criteria governing where such businesses could be placed.
Wapato may run into problems of its own over the zoning ordinance. State law views topless dancing as a form of protected free speech and prohibits cities from zoning strip clubs out of existence.
The only city in the state that’s successfully banned adult entertainment altogether is Woodway, just north of Seattle. That small city is strictly residential with no business zones, said Bob Meinig, a legal consultant with Municipal Research and Services Center, a Seattle-based group that provides cities and towns with legal advice.
But cities with business areas are required to draft zoning laws that leave room for adult entertainment, he said.
“If a zoning rule leaves no place left for such a business, then that could be challenged,” he said. “A city can’t impose location restrictions that would make it impossible to locate such a business.”
Farias said he expects the council to approve one of the proposed ordinances and isn’t convinced that the one focusing on zoning will get the city in any trouble.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll have to see.”
• Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or firstname.lastname@example.org.