A fight over the sale of sexually explicit material in Palmdale escalated Wednesday as the city tried to close the area’s first and only hard-core adult book and video store.
City officials ordered Sunshine Gifts and Things closed Wednesday morning, in keeping with a 5-0 vote by the City Council Tuesday night not to grant operating permits that the store was required to obtain under an ordinance that took effect in October.
But five hours later, after the store’s attorney threatened to sue the city, the store was allowed to reopen, at least until a scheduled court hearing in April.
“This is just the first round in the boxing match,” said Gene McConnell, founder of Concerned Citizens of Antelope Valley, a new anti-pornography group. “We took a major blow to them the other night. And we’re not letting up in the future.”
The council vote came at a meeting attended by about 600 people, many of them connected with the anti-pornography group.
Store opponents charged that it promotes crime and its collection of magazines and rental videos is obscene and harmful to customers. A few people spoke in favor of the store, however, saying it has a First Amendment right of freedom of expression to sell sexually explicit material.
The city’s decision to close the store stemmed indirectly from a charge by an attorney for McConnell’s group that two officials of the company that operates the bookstore had criminal records.
Although not providing any proof to the city, attorney Fred Cassity of Pasadena said that the president of N.L. Management Co., a Denver company that runs a chain of adult bookstores in Southern California, was convicted of kidnaping and rape in Indiana about 10 years ago. Cassity also said the official, Ken Greentree, was arrested on obscenity charges in Dallas in 1987 and 1988.
Cassity told the council that company officer Edward J. Wedelstedt was convicted of interstate transportation of stolen pornographic material in Iowa about 10 years ago and also was convicted of federal income tax evasion and served time in prison.
The Times could not verify the accuracy of those allegations Wednesday. An attorney representing N.L. Management Co., David M. Brown of Beverly Hills, declined to comment on the statements. Brown said they are legally irrelevant to whether the company is entitled to obtain city permits.
City Atty. Bill Rudell disagreed, saying such convictions could be considered by the city.
Brown said the city still had no legal basis for denying the store’s permits.
“My client fulfilled all the conditions of the city’s business-license ordinance,” Brown said. “City staff recommended approval of the permits. And the council then denied them without any basis.” He accused the council of caving in to public opposition by refusing to grant the permits, which were for operating an adult bookstore and an adult picture arcade.
Located in a rundown commercial strip along Sierra Highway just north of City Hall, Sunshine Gifts operated for years under a prior owner as an adult novelties store, drawing little notice. Protests began after a new company took over last year and began carrying more hard-core material.
The company brought a lawsuit against Palmdale in federal court in November, after the city halted plans by the company to install video viewing booths in the store. Now, Brown said, the company will file an amended complaint challenging the city’s latest action.