Where's the evidence?

I was disappointed by the glib attitude taken by the drafters of the "adult use" section of the zoning ordinance.

According to your article ["XXX-rated ordinance," News, November 21, 2002] (http://www.readthehook.com/92767/news-xxx-rated-ordinance-city-wants-reg...), their reason for adding it was that Richmond and Roanoke have one, and because they were afraid of a "red-light district." They don't seem to have considered the root mindset that inspires zoning ordinances against sex-oriented businesses: restricting sexual expression.

Politicians in other localities have used such legislation to gain the favor of sexually conservative voters, often while patronizing these businesses at the same time. They batter sex-oriented businesses and end up crippling them financially even if the businesses win in court. I don't believe gaining political favor is the impetus behind the drafters of our new ordinance, but the chilling effect on businesses will be the same.

There is no recent evidence that a high concentration of sexually oriented retailers and/or entertainment is correlated to negative secondary effects. I know this because this very issue was recently seen before the U.S. Supreme Court (Los Angeles v. Alameda Books), and the most recent study L.A. had was from 1977.

That study didn't sway many of the justices. Amicus briefs filed by groups such as Feminists for Free Expression and the First Amendment Lawyers Association supported the idea that any increase in crime rate or decrease in property value associated with high concentrations of sexual entertainment was more directly a result of cities zoning such businesses out of growth areas into poorer and more industrial areas.

[Head of neighborhood development services Jim] Tolbert and [deputy city attorney Lisa] Kelley have merely assumed that a) Charlottesville is in danger of getting some adult superplex, and b) such a thing would be detrimental to its surrounding neighborhoods.

Justice David Souter suggests that we should be wary when "The government appeals, not to evidence, but to an uncritical common sense in an effort to justify such a zoning restriction" and that, "We must be careful about substituting common assumptions for evidence."

Here in Charlottesville, retailers of sexual items have existed for a long time, with no detrimental effects on their surrounding neighborhoods. The "other adult business"– alcohol– arguably has more secondary effects on its neighborhoods than any other kind of retail, but Tolbert and Kelley have not suggested that bars have a 1000-foot separation between them. This suggests that their regulation may be unfairly based on the sex-positive content of retailers of sexual items.

Ray Smith