L.A. councilwoman targets sex trade in her Valley district

L.A. councilwoman targets sex trade in her Valley district
A sign for an adult entertainment business looms behind women and children crossing at Roscoe Boulevard and Sepulveda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. (Christina House / For The Times)

In the mornings, when Dakeya Brown-Kane takes her 3-year-old daughter to preschool, she tries to distract her with paper to draw on so she overlooks the scantily clad women outside.

But it's hard to ignore the sultry billboard for the La Perla gentlemen's club near their apartment window on Sepulveda Boulevard, Brown-Kane said. She laments that the strip clubs and liquor stores dotting their Van Nuys street are a reminder of its seedy reputation, even when the prostitutes are nowhere to be seen.


"They definitely need to do something," said Brown-Kane, who lives and works at an apartment complex on Sepulveda. "At the very least — not add to it."

Battling prostitution has been a major focus for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who has pushed to bolster police patrols, increase enforcement against johns and pimps, and boost diversion programs for prostitutes in her San Fernando Valley district.

Now, in the quest to stamp out the sex trade in the area, Martinez is zeroing in on the strip clubs, massage parlors and liquor stores that line Sepulveda Boulevard, aiming to prevent new "adult entertainment" businesses from opening along a nearly four-mile stretch of the street.

The councilwoman wants to pass an ordinance to temporarily prevent new topless bars, liquor stores and other "adult-oriented uses" from opening along the targeted stretch of Sepulveda, as well as parts of Lankershim Boulevard and San Fernando Road in Sun Valley. Existing shops would be allowed to stay open, but the restrictions would halt permits for new such businesses there.

"Unfortunately, it seems like the vice activities feed on each other," Martinez said, adding: "We don't want these types of businesses to lure the pimps."

If the council ultimately approves the restrictions, they would last for 45 days but could be renewed for up to two years. In the past, the council has used the same process to put a hold on new billboards and automotive repair shops in parts of L.A. as city officials considered permanent regulations.

The plan was welcomed by some Valley residents and businesses: Steve Sanchez, who manages the Cklass clothing shop on Sepulveda Boulevard, said the strip clubs and other adult shops serve as "meeting places" for prostitutes and pimps. Longtime Van Nuys resident Don Schultz, one of the directors of Groups Against Street Prostitution, said the area already had more than enough liquor stores and massage parlors.

"I think it's long overdue," Schultz said.

Aides to Martinez say data from police permits show there are at least 10 "adult entertainment" businesses, not including massage parlors, in the three stretches targeted by the proposal. A Times analysis of state data from 2012 tallied 15 businesses with licenses to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.

"There isn't a lack of opportunities to buy liquor" or visit adult businesses on the targeted streets, said Greg Krikorian, president of the Valley Economic Alliance. In fact, he said, stopping new shops "may help the existing businesses that are there."

But the California Beverage Retailers Assn., a statewide group with an office in Sherman Oaks, questioned why liquor stores were lumped together with topless bars and other "adult" stores.

"I don't see that they're a problem causing prostitution," executive director Ronald Ziff said. If particular liquor stores have become a nuisance, he said, "the city has plenty of existing laws to control these things."

Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, chief executive of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, questioned what "positive businesses" might fall under the restrictions.

If new massage parlors are barred, "does that affect a Massage Envy that wants to come in?" she asked, mentioning a well-known chain. "It needs to be better defined."


A spokesman for the Los Angeles Assn. of Club Executives, which includes about 30 adult clubs, said his group was generally leery of "broad brush approaches" but was not opposed to Martinez's proposal. He planned to touch base with Martinez to see how his group could help with the challenges her council district faces.

"Responsible club owners should be good neighbors," said Steven Afriat, spokesman for the group. He estimated that only three or four of their members were in the targeted areas, and added that the group has standards including discreet signage and 24-hour phone numbers for neighbors to call with complaints.

"The answer is putting pressure on businesses to be good neighbors — and working with neighborhoods to be certain to identify where the cause of the problem is," he said.

Times data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.