A small-town controversy made movement toward its next chapter on July 13 as the Drain City Council continued work on a draft ordinance and considered business licenses in response to the opening of Top of the Bowl, a local nightclub which includes nude entertainment.
Councilor Jo Barker expressed her displeasure with the establishment, which she said “causes great concern” for vulnerable members of the community as adult entertainment would attract “unsavory elements” to the town.
Top of the Bowl, which opened last month, caused a stir in the community when locals became aware of its inclusion of nude dancers.
The business has billed itself as a bar and restaurant with “special events,” which are to include sports viewing parties, poker tournaments, live music, burlesque shows and both male and female topless dancing.
At a June 8 Drain City Council meeting, a large turnout of community members denounced the business variously as sinful, corrupting of youth and likely to bring illicit activity such as drugs and sex trafficking to the community.
Protesting voices were particularly critical of the establishment’s location — the second floor of a building immediately adjacent to Gateway Family Fellowship church.
“We are obviously opposed to any kind of adult or sexually-oriented business or activity going on anywhere near our church,” said the church’s pastor Ray Perry at the June 8 council meeting. “Especially not next door to it — especially where we share a property line.”
The city’s proposed ordinance, among other stipulations, sets a 500-foot boundary between adult entertainment businesses and locations where children might congregate, which includes churches, schools, child day-care centers, libraries, parks and playgrounds.
As Top of the Bowl sits some 25 feet from the adjacent church, it would fall into this category. However, because the business has already opened, the question of whether the ordinance could be retroactively enforced remains to be seen.
“I’m not sure on that,” said Drain Mayor Justin Cobb, adding that other layers of law enforcement may complicate the matter.
During the July 13 meeting, councilors and staff heard testimony from Ray Hacke, an attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute who responded to a letter sent by the Gateway Family Fellowship church.
Pacific Justice Institute is a nonprofit legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom and parental rights. The nonprofit works pro bono in cases which involve the exercise of religion and other civil liberties and made headlines in May when it filed suit against Governor Kate Brown, challenging her emergency powers during the pandemic.
Hacke surmised that Drain’s proposed ordinance would pass muster in court.
The attorney also voiced his concern about the indecency of Top of the Bowl’s nude events.
“An adult entertainment business has no business setting up shop right next to a church. It has no business setting up next to any place where children congregate,” he argued. “These places do attract sexual predators.”
Hacke also referenced certain vulnerable populations who go to and from drug, alcohol and sex addiction programs at the church.
“Here you have temptation coming right to their doorstep,” he said.
Meanwhile, City Administrator Steve Dahl commented there was a concern with an Oregon Supreme Court case which would turn the ordinance into a freedom of expression issue.
“My recommendation, when it comes down to it, is not to get the city sued,” said Dahl. “And I’m afraid that if we go with that ordinance, that we will have a suit against in the city in that direction.”
Cobb, however, felt differently.
“While the Supreme Court has ruled that adult entertainment businesses are a form of free speech and cannot be outright banned, they can be regulated with a ‘time/place/manner’ ordinance, which is enforceable,” he said.
Cobb went on to explain that, as far as he understood the law, such restrictions would be constitutional if the city allows for some space within the jurisdiction on which the business could be established.
Hacke, too, said that a “time, place and manner” restriction would not violate freedom of speech and that, regardless of a lawsuit, the ordinance would win in court.
Cobb then asked Barker, Dahl and Hacke to work on a final version of the ordinance to be proposed at the next City Council meeting.
Councilors also considered introducing business licenses to Drain as another strategy for restricting nude entertainment in the city, though the mayor said he was doing it reluctantly.
“I’m a staunch believer in very limited government control,” said Cobb. “So enacting a business license to me just feels wrong. It’s against my better instincts to want to do this.”
Cobb recommended that the city confer with local business owners on the topic before making a decision.
“If we’re going to do business licenses, I want it to be as clear-cut and easy of a process as possible,” he said.
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