Cindy Chavez Asks County to Redefine ‘Adult Entertainment’

Local governments manage to keep a pretty firm damper on nudie bars with the combined force of licensing, nuisance and zoning laws. Unless a club holds the proper adult entertainment permits, dancers can't (legally) take their tops or bottoms off. Undercover stings catching unlicensed nudity can get a place shut down or suspended of a liquor license pretty quick.

But one Santa Clara County elected doesn't think those rules go far enough.

Fearing the proliferation of "bikini bars" in the South Bay, Supervisor Cindy Chavez asked if the county could broaden its definition of "adult entertainment" to include even fully clothed dancing if it's in a cage, with a pole or on a lap. That would allow the county to demand adult entertainment licensing, normally reserved for strip clubs, of bars and nightclubs with go-go dancers.

"There are reports that, in spite of the 'bikini bar' label, the entertainers often remove the bikinis, which results in what is essentially an unregulated strip club," Chavez wrote in a pearl-clutching memo asking the county to study the matter. "These reports have been documented by the widespread practice of posting images and videos from these establishments on social media."

The logic, apparently, is that because some clubs break the rules, there should be more rules. There will be no unregulated freeing of nipples on the supervisor's watch.

In the April 2014 recommendation, Chavez invoked the usual outrage about adult-themed clubs being a magnet for crime, blight and unsavory characters.

Nearly a year later, county staff is back with a report saying that, basically, labeling fully clothed sexy dancing as "adult entertainment" would run the risk of violating constitutionally protected freedom of expression. It would also unintentionally apply to other businesses, like fitness studios that teach pole dancing.

Given the protections afforded by the First Amendment, the county would have to prove that fully (or even scantily) clothed lap, pole or cage dancing causes enough crime to make a case for outlawing it.

"This could include data and studies showing increased rates of crime, prostitution, human trafficking, or problems with noise," county staff explained, "taking into account information from arrest records, complaints, and investigations performed by the sheriff’s office."

Currently, the county defines an adult entertainment establishment as one whose performers regularly display "specified anatomical areas for observation by patrons or customers."

To wit: "Less than completely and opaquely covered human genitals, pubic region, buttock and female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola; or, human male genitals in a discernibly turgid state."

The county could find no other example of a jurisdiction defining fully clothed, or even scantily clothed, suggestive dancing as "adult entertainment" requiring the attendant licensing.

As part of the same request, Chavez directed the county to explore the idea of creating a local liquor license and establishing a minimum private room size to prevent people from sneaking off for paid sex. County staff said the state already does a sufficient job regulating alcohol permits and that imposing rules about room sizes would be just about impossible to enforce.

County planners suggested that if Chavez is worried about human trafficking and wants to heighten enforcement of bikini bars, they could look into the possibility of imposing licensing requirements similar to massage parlors. Or, they could add a new use permit for businesses in unincorporated areas that stay open past midnight—similar to what's required in San Jose.

In 2013, then-downtown Councilman Sam Liccardo raised similar concerns when trying to crack down on bikini bars. Worried that Gold Club would sleaze up the city and scare people away from downtown, he proposed hiking up fees and handing down limits on touching, lighting and table-top dancing.

The issues raised by Liccardo was that sexually-themed businesses tend to attract crime and require more policing. He also wasn't too keen about the location, either. Gold Club moved into the distinguished-looking historic bank building in the heart of downtown, the cradle of his new-urbanist hopes and dreams.

“[W]e can’t expect investors and developers to continue to risk their $130 million on towers that will be routinely surrounded by 24-year-old men with elevated levels of testosterone and intoxication,” he cautioned at the time.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for March 24, 2015:

  • Ken Yeager, the first openly gay county supervisor, wants to open an office of LGBTQ affairs. No other state or county (and only a few cities) in the nation have such an office, he says. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and questioning community, which makes up about 4 percent of the county's population, has been traditionally underrepresented in government. Outcomes for the community are statistically much worse than the population at-large, Yeager notes. According to the county's health assessment, people who identify as LGBT are more likely to be victims of hate crimes, harassment and domestic violence. A dedicated office would help address those needs, he says. "For many years, Santa Clara County has been a leader in addressing the needs of underserved populations that require the services of the county," he wrote. "In recent years, the county has created individual offices to serve women, veterans, racial and ethnic minorities, and soon immigrants. All of these communities are worthy of extra focus. By focusing particular attention on these groups, we are able to better serve them."
  • To avoid conflicts of interest and prevent over-prescribing psychotropic meds to kids, Yeager wants to develop a policy to prevent physicians working with the county's foster children from accepting kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies.
  • While "tiny homes" present a promising possibility for housing the homeless, there are lots of legal barriers. Still, county officials are talking about offering pre-development loans to nonprofits trying to figure out how to make them a feasible option for Silicon Valley's 7,600 unsheltered residents. Most tiny home designs lack heat, electricity or plumbing, don't comply with local building codes and fall short of state standards for habitability. Micro-homes that are code compliant tend to be cost-prohibitive—at least for local governments. Using travel trailers allows people to skirt building codes entirely, but might require updates to zoning ordinances before they're legally considered permanent homes. Finally, there's a lack of affordable land to build on. Meanwhile, the county will consider a spate of short-term options. Funding all unused emergency shelters would cost the county some $1.7 million. Teaming up with the city of San Jose to provide motel vouchers would run $100 per person or $200 a day for a family. Creating a "safe parking" program for people living out of their cars would total up to $450,000 a year, including the cost of supportive services.
  •  Instead of contracting the work out to an outside agency, the District Attorney's Office wants to bring victim assistance services in-house.
  • The 2015 homeless census cost local governments $155,000 to conduct. But the results therein could be used to apply for about $15 million in federal housing funds.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. A Viet friend once took me to one of the clubs that were busted. While we were there he explained the Viet mentality behind eschewing the laws.

    Basically a lot of older Viets are uber paranoid about communism. Most Viets are super Libertarian because of it.

    So to the Viet’s that frequent these places, this is the percieved “freedom” of being an American. They’re not hurting anyone, there was no prostitution (Although there are pretty girls that will chat you up as long as you keep buying/tipping) There’s karaoke, there’s smoking inside, and yes, gambling machines.

    And in a lot of ways, I agree with them. Why should Chuck Reeds friends get to open the Matrix? Why should the Bumb family get to open Bay 101? Why can’t we allow business owners to decide if smoking is allowed? Why don’t we just let them have their gambling machines with regulation and taxation? Why isn’t the Alcohol board handing these folks type 47 liquor licenses?

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s a lot easier to get people to conform when it’s along the lines of what they’re already doing. Example I love to use is from my 7 Bamboo days. People kept using the back door to go in and out, so eventually one day I woke up and realized, “This should be our entrance” If our local government is truly to be “of the people” then we need to let the majority rule on this one, and leave these clubs alone (but have regulations)

  2. This warrants revising Cindy’s website bio so it says “She was a leader in developing cutting-edge community-based programs to address crime, education, small business development, breast transparency and neighborhood revitalization.”

    Taking care of low hanging fruit first, no pun intended…

  3. Robberies, rapes, homicides, and a person who couldn’t get a job at one of these clubs on her best day in her youth wants to waste peace officer time enforcing the behavior of consenting adults. Liberals are only liberal when it conforms to their particular ideas.

    • JMO:

      From lyrics to lapdances; doesn’t every county in America deserve to have its Mini-me Tipper Gore?



    • Hey JMO,

      You said: and a person who couldn’t get a job at one of these clubs on her best day in her youth

      You’re right, but question is would she have wanted to work in one? I think she has qualities that would lead her to better jobs (and they have)

      But this is what she has to understand. Some girls like working in these places. It’s not a situation of they have no other options. Reddit has had several AMA’s with these girls, and some of them complain about “Captain Save A Ho.” People that come into the clubs automatically assuming the worst, and that they don’t want to work there.

      Now it’s time for a song.

  4. Thank goodness for Cindy Chavez. For all those who support these “Cafe Girls” club lobby Cindy for one in your block. There are so many illegal clubs and businesses now in our city thanks to council members who look the other way because they want the vote and the money. When San Jose had those gambling raids operating out of homes and businesses it was no shock to me.

    Has anyone ever asked how businesses can offer those cheap massages? Many of those people who work in these places cannot speak English and sometimes I think there is a lot of slave labor in this valley but too many politicians look the other way.

  5. I don’t appreciate the smug tone of this piece. (“Pearl-clutching”? Give me a break.) Regulating strip clubs is a legitimate community issue, as is rape and human trafficking. “Bikini bars” are quasi strip clubs, and it’s perfectly within the realm of a public servant’s job to perform due diligence in assessing their impact on the community. Some women also like being prostitutes, but that’s no reason to pretend that such a profession or workplace shouldn’t be regulated.

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