City officials conceded Monday that a downtown bookstore that sells adult-only, sexually explicit merchandise cannot be forced to close because most of the items for sale there are of general interest.
“They have decided to abide by the rules and, to the extent that they do, they are entitled to do business,” said Assistant City Atty. John Serrano. “They have diluted the amount of adult material with items like baseball hats, greeting cards and legitimate magazines--a whole host of non-adult things which has caused their position to be legal.”
At issue is the F Street Bookstore, a countywide chain of stores specializing in adult fare, which opened a store Dec. 16 on Grand Avenue, in the downtown district targeted for an expensive revitalization project.
City officials, worried that the business would taint the block, immediately moved to close it down. The city filed a civil lawsuit in Vista Municipal Court and arrested the business owner and building owner on misdemeanor charges of violating the city’s zoning ordinance, which bans from Grand Avenue any business in which adult material makes up a “substantial or significant” share of the stock in trade. State courts have interpreted that definition to mean more than 50% of the items for sale.
Serrano said Monday that the most recent city check of the F Street Bookstore’s inventory showed about 400 types of adult merchandise, including magazine, book and video titles and types of sex toys, compared to more than 1,000 non-adult items, ranging from posters and coffee mugs to greeting cards and general interest books and magazines.
“I wish I could laugh,” said Serrano, who admitted he was frustrated by the store’s success in mixing inoffensive material with adult merchandise to technically qualify as a general-interest gift shop.
Serrano said the city would drop misdemeanor criminal charges against the business owner, Fais Ondor, and the building owner, Gojko Vasic, who were arrested Dec. 20 and were to face trial Jan. 16 on allegations of violating the city’s zoning law regulating location of adult businesses.
Serrano said, however, that the city would keep its civil lawsuit against Ondor “on file” in Vista Municipal Court in the event that a recheck shows that more than 50% of the merchandise is adult-only.
Furthermore, he said, the city will consider rewriting the adult business ordinance in such a way as to define adult stores as those in which 25% or more of the stock in trade is adult merchandise.
“But if we do, I expect they’ll simply increase the number of baseball caps and greeting cards, rather than decrease the number of adult stuff,” Serrano said.
The city will not press charges against the store for having peep shows with doors--another city prohibition--because a majority of the movies available for viewing in the store are general interest, including classic Westerns, so the small viewing cubicles do not qualify as sex-oriented “peep shows,” Serrano said.
Tom Homann, Ondor’s attorney, was “gleeful” over the city’s decision Monday to drop the charges against his client but he denied the city’s contention that Ondor has watered down the contents of the store since it opened two weeks ago.
“Absolutely nothing has changed in the store between the day it opened and now,” Homann said. “I assume it just took some time for them to understand the nature of the store.”
Despite Homann’s contention that the store’s stock has not changed, Mayor Ernie Cowan claimed a victory of sorts on Monday, saying that because of the way the city moved to enforce its adult business regulations, the store “has substantially and notably reduced the adult entertainment material to a fraction of what it was when it opened.”
Fred Vaught, spokesman for Citizens Opposing Pornography, accused the bookstore of “playing games” by mixing its stock of sex material with non-offensive merchandise.
“The fact of the matter is, they’re still in the pornography business and that (the city’s announcement of compliance) is not going to deter our efforts in organizing the citizenry to picket F Street or any other store that carries that kind of merchandise in our community,” Vaught said.
Members of Vaught’s group have been picketing the store at random hours in an effort to reduce the amount of casual walk-in traffic at the store and to build public sentiment against the business.