Whittier Ban on X-Rated Films Loses 2nd Court Test

Times Staff Writer

For the second consecutive year, a federal judge has thrown out a section of this city's zoning ordinance that would have forced the X-rated Pussycat Wardman Theater to move or stop showing adult films.

District Judge Manuel Real ruled that the city failed to provide sufficient justification for prohibiting an adult theater within 1,000 feet of a church.

In February, 1984, Real threw out an identical ordinance for the same reason. The Pussycat Theater, on Greenleaf Avenue in uptown Whittier, is within 1,000 feet of four churches, according to the city.

Ban Called Arbitrary

In ruling, Real called the ban arbitrary, and likened it to prohibiting X-rated theaters from being within 1,000 feet of a pink house "because children live in a pink house."

Katherine Stone, representing the city, argued that the ban is justified because without it children "walking past (the theater) would be exposed to (adult movie) ads."

But Real said, "Who said they (the children) had to pass it? They can go around the block."

Stanley Fleishman, an attorney for Hollywood-based Walnut Properties, which operates the chain of Pussycat Theaters and which sued to overturn the ordinance, said Judge Real "in essence ruled that the ordinance was bad before and it is still bad."

Monetary Damages Asked

The suit asked the court to void the ordinance and seeks an undetermined amount of damages for the city's "bad faith actions" against the theater's operator.

Stone said the city would appeal the ruling and would ask that an Aug. 19 hearing on the damage issue be delayed, pending the appeal.

"We are dealing with an area of the law that is in flux. These are real complicated procedures," Stone said.

After Real struck down the ordinance in 1984, the City Council enacted a new adult-business ordinance, which was identical. However, city officials said that the new measure had been backed by planning reports in an attempt to justify it.

City Manager Thomas Mauk described Monday's proceedings as "the latest in a series. This is a continuing saga of Whittier vs. Wardman."

Bought 8 Years Ago

The Wardman Theater opened in 1932 as a general-release movie house. It was bought by Walnut Properties in early 1977 and began showing X-rated films.

At the time there were about a dozen adult businesses in various areas of the city, according to city officials. But the city's subsequent adoption of this restrictive zoning provision 1978, and a separate crackdown on prostitution, eliminated all but the theater.

Whittier's use of zoning to restrict adult businesses is based on the Supreme Court's 1976 decision that allowed the city of Detroit to restrict adult businesses to particular zoned areas, City Atty. Robert Flandrick said in earlier interviews.

Adult businesses cannot be outlawed from a city because of First Amendment guarantees of freedom of expression, but such businesses can be controlled by zoning laws, he said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World