The New Orleans City Council on Thursday will take up a proposal to cap the number of strip clubs along Bourbon Street, part of a long-running back-and-forth over how to rein in perceived excesses at the city's adult-oriented businesses.
Councilwoman Stacy Head is planning to introduce a measure that would limit the number of clubs in the Vieux Carre Entertainment District to the present total of 12. That district stretches seven blocks along Bourbon and includes part of Iberville Street.
But the measure would not impose any restrictions on how many clubs can operate in a given block, something officials had contemplated.
Head asked the City Planning Commission in October to study both the proposed cap on clubs and their spacing. Her latest proposal comes after the commission rejected both ideas in February in favor of a “soft cap” that would require new clubs to win approval on a case by case basis.
Head agreed to abandon the idea of spacing restrictions, but she said in an interview Monday that she thought the "soft cap" would be overly burdensome for club owners.
Under her plan, if a strip club is shut down for breaking the rules or some other reason, another can open "as a matter of right," she said, as long as the total does not exceed 12.
The same would be true for a strip club that wants to cut ties with a landlord and open a new location elsewhere in the district. “They wouldn’t have to go negotiate for a conditional use permit," she said.
Any further steps to regulate the clubs, like setting more clearly defined rules about what sort of conduct is acceptable on the part of dancers or patrons, will fall to the next council, which takes office in May.
Head's proposal is due to come up for debate and a vote Thursday. If approved in concept as a motion, it would then be introduced as a formal ordinance on first reading and likely given a final OK at the council's next meeting.
It comes after more than two years of study by council members and city planners.
Debate on whether to crack down on the clubs flared up in June 2015 when 19-year-old Bourbon Street dancer Jasilas Wright was left to die on Interstate 10 in Metairie by Adam Littleton, a man investigators said was her pimp.
A few months later, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control and the State Police penalized several French Quarter clubs over allegations of prostitution and drug dealing on their premises.
The council voted in January 2016 to ban all new strip-club employees younger than 21 from dancing nude or partially nude, and state lawmakers later instituted a similar ban for all employees under 21. The council also effectively banned new clubs from opening and asked the Planning Commission to study further restrictions.
The commission initially gave the council three options: a hard cap plus spacing requirements, a soft cap or no extra restrictions at all.
After the proposal sat idle on the council's docket for more than a year, Head proposed in October that the commission look closer at the hard cap idea; the commission in February gave the new recommendation of a soft cap.
Per Head’s suggestion, the council will consider the hard cap, without spacing rules, this week.
Head argued that new limits are necessary to contain the kinds of problems that arise from any business that tends to draw big and potentially unruly crowds.
“I don’t believe in a view that you rely on a marketplace, and you rely on man’s good intentions, to handle the externalities that come with (such) businesses,” she said.
She said any further restrictions — such as how much of her buttocks a dancer may show, what defines a “private room” and other particulars — will be left for the new council to decide.
Some of those particulars have been debated in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state age ban, which is now in the hands of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A lower court last year halted enforcement of the state ban, which trumps the less sweeping local one, while the case plays out.
Meanwhile, an attempt to revise the state law to bolster its legal foundations is moving through the Legislature even as the legal case is pending.