The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to seek legal avenues for closing a bondage-and-discipline club in North Hollywood and for barring similar sadomasochist establishments in unincorporated areas of the county.
The board, acting on a recommendation by the county Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, agreed to form a special committee to look for ways to revoke a zoning permit for Club Chateau, approved by a Los Angeles city zoning administrator last August.
"We should take a strong stand on this type of activity in Los Angeles County and close this place down," Supervisor Kenneth Hahn said.
Supervisor Gloria Molina also asked that businesses in East Los Angeles advertised as "facial and pain control centers" be included in the committee's investigation because, she said, "they are nothing more than fronts for prostitution rings."
It was unclear, however, what legal options would be available to the county to close Club Chateau. The Los Angeles County counsel last week advised the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, a 15-member advisory panel appointed by supervisors, that the county does not have the power to overturn zoning decisions made by the city.
In interviews, commission members said they believe the Club Chateau might be successfully attacked as a public nuisance, under civil law, by arguing that bondage itself is illegal.
"You have community standards, after all, and if people object, that can take care of it," said Dolores I. Nason, commission president.
The new committee is to include representatives of the county district attorney, the city attorney's office, the Sheriff's Department, the county Department of Regional Planning and the county Human Relations Commission.
The Club Chateau, which boasts a membership of about 4,000, moved to a former bakery in a largely industrial area of North Hollywood in March after city officials determined that its former Hollywood site was located within 500 feet of a residence, in violation of the city's adult entertainment ordinance.
A club spokeswoman known as Shyloh, who used to be one of the women paid by members to either give or receive punishments such as whippings, said she was "a little baffled" by the county's attack. She said club owner James Hillier intentionally chose an industrial area to meet city regulations and had agreed to a long list of conditions aimed at ensuring that what goes on inside the club cannot be heard outside.
Despite angry protests by city residents during the public zoning hearings earlier this year, the zoning administrator found nothing in city law to prohibit the club. The permit became final when no one appealed his decision to the City Council.
Dennis Jarrard, a spokesman for an anti-obscenity commission established by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, said civil action has been successful in closing X-rated theaters and in banning nude dancing elsewhere in the country. He said the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is "very concerned" about Club Chateau because of the precedent it sets for the licensing of bondage parlors.
Jarrard recommended the county commission consult pornography law experts, such as attorney James Clancy, who was instrumental in prompting a series of indictments against hard-core pornography establishments in the county in the 1960s.
In a interview, Clancy said the club could be legally closed if the county is willing to persevere with appeals up to the state Supreme Court.
"You can very definitely establish under the law what are the common norms of decency," Clancy said. "All reasonable people would come to the conclusion that this is deleterious and not to be tolerated."