Bolstered by a wave of audience support, the New Orleans City Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a temporary ban on new strip clubs in the French Quarter and authorized its staff to conduct a study into how such clubs should be regulated.
The results of the study will be sent to the City Council by May 2.
The study and an interim zoning district, which essentially amounts to a one-year moratorium on new clubs, are the culmination of a debate that has gone on since June, when 19-year-old Jasilas Wright, a dancer at Stiletto’s Cabaret on Bourbon Street, died after being left on Interstate 10 in Metairie by a man investigators said was her pimp.
Not long afterward, local Covenant House leader Jim Kelly urged the City Council to place age restrictions on dancers working in such establishments. Months later, more than a half-dozen French Quarter clubs drew sanctions from state officials over allegations of prostitution and drug dealing on their premises.
In January, the council honored Kelly’s request by banning all new strip-club employees younger than 21 from dancing nude or partially nude, provisionally stopping new clubs from opening and instructing the Planning Commission to study “best practices” for regulating such clubs.
Club owners fought back against the new rules and apparently won on some points. Although the original version said no new club employees could be younger than 21, the final proposal allowed those under 21 to work in jobs other than dancing.
With many of those points already hashed out, planning commissioners were left on Tuesday to listen to speaker after speaker who supported the study and the IZD, even including some club owners, who said they just wanted to give input before any new restrictions are adopted.
“The businesses which are here today, which represent the Penthouse Club and Rick’s and Hustlers, don’t have an objection to a temporary use restriction,” Rick’s Cabaret owner Robert Watters said.
Although church leaders, advocacy group representatives and French Quarter residents all gave impassioned speeches, perhaps the most emotional plea came from former Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who supported the ban and study. Palmer represented the French Quarter and Algiers on the council from 2010 to 2014.
She said her younger sister, Rebecca Gisleson, began stripping at age 19 after a troubled childhood and years of mental health issues. Rebecca quickly spiraled into drug and alcohol addiction after she began dancing and committed suicide in 1998, Palmer said.
Her twin sister, Rachel Giselson, soon followed, not wanting to be without her sister, Palmer said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the stripping was a major contributing factor to (Rebecca’s) death,” Palmer said.
“Any industry which is found breaking the law in over two-thirds of its establishments would be so highly scrutinized that it would lead to mass closures,” she said, referring to the state raids. “Why should this industry be any different?”
The deadline for written public comments on the study is April 18. It will be made available to the public on April 19 and considered by the commission on April 26 before going to the council.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.