Los Angeles police are looking to shut down a strip club and bar complex in Canoga Park they say has become a nuisance and a magnet for crime, attracting complaints of prostitution, assaults and other incidents on the property.
The Xposed Gentleman's Club at 8237 Canoga Ave. adjoins a bikini bar serving alcohol called the Wet Spot. While state law prohibits nude clubs from serving alcohol, the proximity of the two -- and their shared dancer and customer base -- allows them to essentially bypass those restrictions, and city officials say the combination leads to crime. The same strip-mall property also hosts a medical marijuana collective and a liquor store.
At a hearing Friday morning before a city zoning commission, officers with the LAPD's Topanga Division said that over the past three years police have received calls for prostitution, pandering, assault, public intoxication, public urination and other offenses at the site. Some of the activity occurred in the parking lot or in the next-door post office's lot, but police said they believe it was connected to the strip club's dancers and customers.
"The number of calls ebbs and flows, but I can no longer afford to waste our officers' time," said Officer Alex Padron, senior lead officer with Topanga Division.
Brad Barnes, who owns both the club and bar, said his business has not been the main cause of the problems and that he is taking steps to mitigate some of the issues. He argued many of the complaints stem from homeless people attracted to the property by the nearby liquor store and that the club has been searching customers' bags at the door. He also said that guards from the club and bar regularly patrol the parking lot to minimize illegal or inappropriate activity.
"We are a legitimate business, and we're the biggest club in the city," Barnes said. "We are out there patrolling day and night, especially at night. Now I have to go out there and take pictures of the bums sleeping in the bushes of the post office parking lot to show the problems aren't coming from us."
But Barnes does admit that many of the calls to police in recent years have been related to the dancers inside the club. Xposed lists about 1,500 female dancers on its rosters, and roughly 1,000 of those women actively work at the club. Barnes said he does not pay them as employees, but treats them as independent contractors. That definition means that he has little control over what they do on breaks or after-hours, he said. Some work shifts at Xposed and then go next door to Wet Spot to work as bikini dancers on the same day. Many also drink at the bar, and the drinking creates a number of altercations between the dancers or dancers and customers.
Barnes said he's working to mitigate drinking by dancers at the club by inspecting hand bags and purses upon entry, scanning for alcohol that may be brought in.
The property around the club was zoned to prohibit strip clubs years ago, but the club was grandfathered in at the time. Now police are arguing that its exemption should be lifted because of the volume of complaints.
The city could force the bar to close if it deems it a nuisance to the surrounding community; it could also impose strict restrictions on operations in lieu of a shutdown. Roger Jon Diamond, Barnes' attorney, said either action would impact businesses other than the bar.
"Politically, it looks like they're painting a broad stroke against the whole area -- the club, the bar and the nearby marijuana collective," he said.
The small center is also home to an upholstery shop, a lingerie/sex toy shop owned by Barnes, Papa Mac's Liquors, and Big Mama's and Papa's Pizzeria.
Samvel Abramov, who owns the pizza restaurant, said in an interview that the homeless population and the proximity of the liquor store are bigger problems that any caused by the club's customers.
"The biggest problem is that the bums congregate there," he said. "Every time I take out the trash, every time I open the door for my delivery driver to come in (Xposed) security is there. They're not the problem."
City associate zoning administrator R. Nicolas Brown asked for more information from both the club and police by Sept. 6 and said he would make his final decision by Oct. 4, though his action can be appealed.
LAPD said if the city did not want to shut down the businesses, it should impose four conditions: have three licensed, armed security guards on the property who regularly report to LAPD; have the dancers be club employees rather than independent contractors, so club management can maintain better control of their behavior; grant LAPD access to the club's wireless security cameras; and have the club support the closing of the medical marijuana dispensary. If the zoning commission decides it doesn't present enough of a problem through the narrow land use jurisdiction, LAPD could also try to get the City Attorney's Office to shut down the club or work to revoke its cabaret license, which is issued by the police commission.
But Padron, the LAPD officer leading the initiative, said he doesn't plan to stop until the businesses shut down.
"We could have gone through mediation with them, but this wields the most power. Revocation is my ultimate goal," Padron said. "If this doesn't work, we'll try something else." ___