No ban on adult videos

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DAWN DE BUSK/Frontiersman reporter

PALMER, Alaska – Adult customers can continue to exercise their freedom of choice and rent X-rated movies displayed in a back room of the Movie Gallery in downtown Palmer. Other residents may also express their opinion about the merchandise provided at the 4-month-old video store by refusing to spend any money there.

Instead of tackling the task of defining ‘what is obscene?’ – an act that might have banned adult videos from the community but would not have closed down the Movie Gallery – the Palmer City Council decided Tuesday to create mandates to control businesses that deal in adult entertainment, according to Mayor John Combs.

The council voted 5-1, with council member Kathrine Vanover in opposition, to request the city’s attorney to submit an adult-oriented business ordinance.

During Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting, council members suggested to City Attorney Jack Snodgrass the ordinance prohibit topless bars, peep shows and prostitution, but allow people over 18 to rent or buy adult videos. Businesses that deal with underage customers would get fined or have permits yanked.

Snodgrass mentioned restricting the adult-oriented businesses to industrial zones. The council did not tie any deadlines to the completion of a rough-draft ordinance.

One by one, audiences members sat at the microphone with emotions ranging from anger to disbelief. Each spoke against the council’s ruling.

“I am very disappointed. I don’t think we were listened to,” Carolyn Kuch said. “What I see is you rolling out the red carpet and saying ‘Come on in, perverts.’ The levity I experienced in your conversation was insulting. It is apparent that none of you have had a wife, a daughter, a sister, or a mother who has been raped by someone who was addicted to pornography.”

Tuesday night’s crowd was much smaller than the one that attended the Feb. 14 meeting where the council discussed a vague obscenity ordinance that was written less than 30 years ago. The ordinance had not been enforced or had been overlooked in its application to the rentals of X-rated movies in two small, locally owned video stores, according to Combs.

On Nov. 18, the Movie Gallery opened it doors, and along with offering a wide range of movies and video games, the business also provides adult-oriented movies, which makes up about 30 percent of its stock.

After that meeting last month, Snodgrass researched the Supreme Court’s ruling on obscenity. He also submitted the legal solutions at which different U.S. cities had arrived to deal with adult-oriented businesses.

He provided the council on Tuesday with three alternatives: have no ordinance; have an anti-obscenity ordinance; or have an adult-oriented-business ordinance, according to Snodgrass’ letter to the mayor and council.

“The reason you can regulate adult-oriented business is because it can have an ill effect on the community. Studies show this,” Snodgrass said.

Vanover said she opposes pornography within the Palmer city limits, and wants to nip in the bud the degradation that stems from addiction to pornography.

“I support including a definition of obscene and keeping the ordinance on the books,” Vanover said. “What about grandfather rights? I don’t want them (the Movie Gallery) to have any.”

Most council members favored giving residents the freedom to decide whether to rent pornographic material and use it in the privacy of their homes.

Most also favored not interfering with the business that provide adult videos, but everyone drew the line at allowing strip clubs, public nudity and triple-X shops in Palmer.

“I come from a long line of libertarians. The city should not dictate what people can do, except as it impacts public safety and health,” council member Tony Pippel said. “It’s been argued that videos cause harm. Then, why don’t we close the bars? We tolerate that.”

Pippel said he was leaning toward a business zone for adult-oriented materials. He said defining “obscene” would be a difficult task.

“I don’t think the people in this room could agree on a definition, let alone everyone in the community. What about my 25-year-old Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? Is that art or filth?” he asked.

Pippel said he doesn’t want businesses such as peep shows or nude-dancing clubs permitted in Palmer. Renting a movie is a different category, he said.

“What fascinates me is that no one showed up saying they were supporting porn. No one showed up for the other side, and yet all these people came to the meeting saying they didn’t want adult videos in their community,” Vanover said. “I’m not going to tell people what they can do in their homes, but I’m elected to make decisions for the community, and I should be able to stop it in my community. I feel very strongly about this, and I am drawing a line in the sand. I’m not giving up.”

DeLena Johnson, who regularly attends council meetings but rarely joins audience participation, decided to speak.

“It’s important for the city councils, for the assembly and for state lawmakers to legislate morality because that’s why you’re elected,” she said. “I was confused by what happened here. I thought the goal was to define obscene. Is it going to be left on the books, defined or stricken? The adult entertainment business zone seems like a big undertaking.”

Combs explained during an interview Thursday that the council had set aside finding a definition of obscene for now. The city attorney supplied members with studies from citable sources on the secondary impacts of adult-oriented businesses on a community while he works on finding an adoptable ordinance, Combs said.

“This is a work in progress right now. There haven’t been any decisions,” Combs said. “We are going to pre-empt any strictly adult-oriented businesses like strip clubs and (ones that sell sexual) paraphernalia from locating in Palmer because it’s going to be much easier to locate somewhere else than Palmer when we’re done with this.”

Pippel thanked residents for expressing their concerns, and suggested that in order to not feel like they were helpless to change their community they could boycott the retailer.

“Instead of rolling out the red carpet, we are actually rolling it up and putting it in a warehouse,” Combs said. “We’re not creating a new zone.”

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