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For Hot Oil Wrestlers, No Nudes Is Bad News
Photo by Greg King
Bare none: California Hardbodies performers don provocative costumes that sometimes slip off to expose their breasts and buttocks.
California Hardbodies may challenge new Santa Rosa law
By Bruce Robinson
It's certainly going to modify some costumes," says Bob Manthey, manager of the California Hardbodies, who insists that Santa Rosa's newly adopted anti-nudity ordinance will not put an end to his group's local performances.
The Hardbodies--a troupe of trim, buxom young women--have been staging "oil wrestling" performances twice a month at Magnolia's, a popular Railroad Square nightclub for the past five years. Those topless shows stop short of full nudity, but clearly will no longer be legal when the new ordinance goes into effect on the first of the year.
The new law, passed Nov. 28 on a 4-0 vote, prohibits exposure of a list of specific anatomical areas by anyone "participating in any live act, demonstration, performance or exhibition" for which they are paid, when it occurs in "a public place, a place open to the public, or a place open to pubic view."
It specifically applies to anyone working in an establishment that serves any kind of food or beverages, alcoholic or otherwise.
"It was specifically drafted so that it deals only with commercially related nudity," explains Lt. Scott Swanson of the Santa Rosa Police Department, which wrote and promoted the measure. "That's where we see the nexus between nudity and crime--prostitution, assault, those sorts of things. We look at it as a public-safety issue, not some behavior that we might disagree with."
Swanson also noted that a related concern was "the economic vitality of downtown. Nude entertainment is something we don't think is in the best interest of the downtown."
The measure was prepared because "we have been receiving a variety of inquiries from enterprises that were inquiring about whether they could legally bring nude activities into Santa Rosa," Swanson adds. Although most such enterprises would need to get a special permit from the city, and any that serve alcohol would have to comply with the standards set by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, there were still loopholes to close off.
Prior to the new ordinance, "there was no mechanism to ensure that [the requirement to get a permit] would occur in every case, and that mechanism might not apply to existing businesses if they wanted to transition to nude entertainment," Swanson says, adding that "Sacramento has had a problem with juice bars that feature a wide range of nude entertainment," but are not subject to the ABC restrictions because they do not serve alcohol.
Scott Goree--the owner of Magnolia's, where the Hardbodies have been performing regularly on Monday nights--is not convinced. "They can already stop anybody by not issuing a use permit in the first place," he says. During the past six months, as he has tried to win city approval for a teen-oriented club in the downtown area, "I've already seen that if they don't want something to go in downtown, they have plenty of ways to stop it," he adds.
When the anti-nudity measure was presented to the City Council last month, the police "never provided one name or application or supplied any information that there was anybody coming [to town to promote nude entertainment], other than rumors about these mythical people who are about to come in here and turn downtown into strip joints," Goree objects.
Since he began hosting the Hardbodies shows, "there haven't been any complaints, there haven't been any police calls," he says. "At the public hearing, they made a point of saying they had no problems with Magnolia's; the place was run really well."
For Goree, the Hardbodies shows are an economic issue. He was desperate to keep the door open during the slow winter months when Magnolia's first tried a Hardbodies show. "I'm not a proponent of strip clubs or the flesh trade. I was very skeptical until we tried," he recalls, "and then it went gangbusters. I made more money in four nights than the whole rest of December."
Despite that success, he insists that the topless shows are only to keep the venue for live music. "I'm not terribly happy about it," he says, "but I'm in the entertainment business, and there are only so many ways I can make money in that location."
Hardbodies manager Manthey says he is willing to make whatever changes are necessary to keep the shows legal in Santa Rosa. "We are certainly willing to meet with the Santa Rosa vice [officers] and have them define exactly what they consider 'the cleft of the buttocks,'" he said, referring to the most ambiguous anatomical reference in the law. ABC rules say dancers, of either sex "can't show the cleft of the buttocks when they're within six feet of a customer," Manthey continues. "Santa Rosa is unique in trying to prevent the cleft of the buttocks on stage, as well as when they're close to the customers."
As for the immediate future, Manthey says, "The December show at Magnolia's will be the same as it's been for the past five years, and it will be legally topless. The January show may or may not be topless, depending on how the individual entertainers feel about the Police Department's definition of 'cleft of the buttocks.'"
Manthey also is "considering legal options to challenge and overturn the ordinance."
Those options will depend extensively on how the new ordinance is enforced, says Paul Neuer, the Santa Rosa attorney retained by Manthey. "That's where it gets down to the nitty-gritty. It's patently constitutionally unenforceable and constitutionally flawed."
The key issue, he says, is the ordinance's conflict with the constitutional First Amendment right to freedom of expression. "There are a multitude of cases that hold that nudity does not equate to obscenity," he adds. "Entertainment is protected the same as speech and all the other rights we have under the First Amendment.
"Nudity, if it constitutes entertainment, is a protected area."
Although the Santa Rosa law does include an exemption for any "theater, concert hall, or similar establishment that is primarily devoted to theatrical performances," Neuer dismisses that clause as "vague."
"Define what a 'theatrical performance' is," he says.
Neuer presented the City Council with copies of the comparable ordinance from San Francisco, as well as the ABC regulations, both of which have been contested in court and upheld, but "it went right over their heads. They were hellbent for election, to outlaw nudity in this jurisdiction, and that was the end of it.
"They had a mindset that was frightening."
At that same City Council hearing, several speakers affiliated with a conservative religious group called Hope in Sonoma County spoke in favor of the ordinance. Although this is the same group that successfully promoted the "blinder law" that requires adult magazines to have their covers masked in local stores, Lt. Swanson insists Hope did not initiate this law.
"When we had it ready to go, we contacted them to let them know," he says, although he added, "They have a whole series of proposals that we have just been made aware of, that they will want to be bringing forward."
Phone calls to the organization about this additional agenda went unreturned.
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From the Dec. 14-20, 1995 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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