New safety restrictions are closing businesses across the state of California as new COVID-19 infections continue to spike. However, some business owners in San Diego are crying foul over the fact that two strip clubs remain open – at least for now.
Industries large and small across the country have been fighting recent stay-at-home orders in the courts to varying degrees of success. While state and local officials are trying to keep the public safe from the spread of the coronavirus, some businesses are benefiting more than others.
Winners and Losers
Business owners who have been affected by the coronavirus say they aren’t getting the help they need while their doors remain closed. California recently reinstated a sweeping shutdown order that has affected some 33 million people.
The current stay-at-home order restricts restaurants to take-out only, while banning indoor dining. However, these restrictions don’t seem to apply to two gentlemen’s clubs in the San Diego area, Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club, both of which feature live adult entertainment.
These two venues sued the county and state after being ordered to shut their doors. San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil issued a preliminary injunction on November 6th that protects the strip clubs from any enforcement actions by state and local officials. However, both clubs must adhere to the state’s 10 PM curfew and close early.
Ruling on the case, Judge Wohlfeil said adult live entertainment is “constitutionally protected speech” and that the harm would be greater to the businesses than to the government.
That nullified the club’s first cease-and-desist order it received, which came just days after San Diego Padres outfielder Tommy Pham was stabbed in the Pacer’s parking lot.
For the meantime, county officials say they cannot take action against the strip clubs as long as the injunction remains in place, despite the latest stay-at-home order.
The owners of the gentlemen’s clubs say they require everyone to wear a mask and keep six feet apart, but local officials say that’s not enough to comply with the new shutdown order, which prohibits social gatherings of any kind.
Gym and restaurant owners sued the county and state last month in an effort to overturn these restrictions. In that case, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel said that the potential harm from undercutting the state’s COVID-19 response outweighed damage to the affected businesses.
As backlash against the gentlemen’s clubs continues, San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Wednesday to appeal the judge’s ruling, which would end the strip clubs’ immunity.
According to legal analyst Dan Eaton, the clubs will likely have to close this time around. “It [the stay-at-home order] has been amended and everyone is shut down from operating indoors. So, it becomes a harder argument for the strip clubs to make that they are being treated unfairly.”
With the appeal in the works, county officials say they plan to shut down the strip clubs as soon as possible, assuming the court sides in their favor.
“I’m guessing most folks aren’t going there with all the members of their household, so you have multiple households interacting together in a high-risk setting and so we ordered them closed,” Supervisor Nathan Fletcher added on Wednesday.
Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees that the judge will decide that strip clubs should be shut down this time around, just like every other nonessential business. “My expectation is the judge is going to say, ‘Look now that all these places have been shut down, at least for the duration of the lockdown, that strip clubs should also be shut down too,’” he said.
Local restaurant and gym owners haven’t been shy when it comes to voicing their frustration.
“I believe anybody can make a business in America. So, it’s nothing against the strip clubs, but it’s how inconsistent it is that somehow…you can’t contract it in certain areas,” said Alondra Ruiz, the owner of The Village SD, a popular restaurant in San Diego.
Ruiz expressed her outrage over the recent restrictions during a four-minute video she uploaded to social media. She told her customers that she has no intention of stopping onsite dining.
Operating during a shutdown could lead to a cease-and-desist order from local officials, as well as costly fines for breaking the rules, but Ruiz says she’s willing to live with the consequences.
As she told a local reporter while seating customers outside:
“I had a meeting with my employees, you know, everybody wants to work. So, I’m standing up for them and I’m standing up for the people that want to say something but don’t have the courage or are afraid of the fines. I think they’re illegal and I’d rather fight them in court than shut down my business.”
For the time being, Ruiz says she’s digging in for what could be a long legal fight.
“I’m a compassionate person. I understand the suffering of people who have lost family members to COVID. But if that’s the thing, if that’s really the concern, is to keep people apart, then they should close big corporations too.”