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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New Orleans City Planning Commission recommends 'soft cap' on Bourbon Street strip clubs

Posted By on Tue, Feb 6, 2018 at 8:00 PM

click to enlarge Club workers and allies filled the Rosenwald Center to oppose limits on the number of clubs on Bourbon Street.
  • Club workers and allies filled the Rosenwald Center to oppose limits on the number of clubs on Bourbon Street.

With more than 200 strip club workers and advocates filling a makeshift meeting room inside the Rosenwald Center’s gym Feb. 6, the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) rejected parts of a plan from the New Orleans City Council to limit the number of strip clubs on Bourbon Street.

The CPC instead followed recommendations from its staff that call for a “soft cap” of 14 clubs, rather than a harder cap limiting clubs to one per block face, as the City Council had proposed in its pitch for the CPC to study its feasibility.

The CPC’s recommendations now head to the City Council, which could adopt them into the city's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.

Today’s hearing follows raids of eight Bourbon Street clubs last month by the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control and the New Orleans Police Department, resulting in suspended alcohol licenses and some club closures, and a loss of income for hundreds of out-of-work dancers, bartenders and others club workers and their families in what otherwise is a lucrative Carnival season.
Those raids followed City Hall’s sweeping public safety plans that also called for a “rebranding” of the French Quarter, as well as several years of “crackdowns” from city officials, from age limits on dancers to linking club workers to trafficking and other crimes.

The CPC staff said in its report, however, that it “has not found a direct causality between the number of [Adult Live Performance Venues, or ALPVs] in the [Vieux Carre Entertainment District] and crime.” The staff attributed crime on Bourbon Street to a “concentration of entertainment uses beyond ALPVs alone,” not because of them. “Staff does not believe that capping ALPV’s to one venue per blockface would have significant impacts on crime,” the report says.

Commissioner Eugene Green said without numbers from officials proving otherwise, they’re not able to argue that clubs attract criminal activity.

The CPC voted unanimously to support a “soft cap” of up to 14 clubs in the VCE, with other openings subject to the conditional use permitting process. But three clubs were forced to close in the wake of those raids, what club workers say is a political maneuver of "attrition" that aligns with City Hall's plans for fewer clubs on the strip.

It’s a tentative win — until the City Council considers its next steps — for club workers, who marched through the busy French Quarter in the wake of raids and what they’ve argued is City Hall’s plan to “sanitize” Bourbon Street as a more “family-friendly” destination for tourists.

“We’re going to have to take it one day at a time,” Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers organizer Lyn Archer told Gambit. “I feel pretty strongly that the City Planning Commission continues to assert their job is zoning and land use, and what I saw there was some confusion as to what the intentions behind asking of the study in the first place were. We’re in a situation right now where there are actors involved who have exhausted their other options, so they turn to zoning as a way to limit us in various ways. We’re here to remind them that it’s not appropriate, it’s unethical and it’s discriminatory.”

Several dancers spoke out against recent closures and placing limits on the number of clubs on Bourbon, fighting for their role in the tourist economy and against press and political narratives condemning the livelihoods and the agency of dancers earning a living. Nobody spoke in support of reducing the number of clubs.

“While it could have gotten worse, we still have a lot of work to do,” Archer said. “Although we were glad to see they made no indication there was causaulity established, that strip clubs don’t cause crime, they don’t cause trafficking, we would like them to assert the way this has been done is not correct. I would like them to stand up for us.”

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