Citizens group targets proliferation of X-rated businesses
It isn't unusual for Mr. Peeps to be filled with customers on a weekend evening. But not all the action is behind the closed doors of the controversial, X-rated adult superstore in the Aloha area.
Last Friday night, for example, dozens of anti-pornography protesters marched outside. And the members of Siege, a citizens group that sponsored the demonstration, won't go away anytime soon. They plan to continue marching outside of Mr. Peeps every Friday night and soon will be posting the license plate numbers of the store's customers on their Web site.
The protest was the latest skirmish in a long-running war in the Portland metro area over a dramatic proliferation of local X-rated businesses in recent years.
'Porn destroys families,' said Nina Shurts, who also solicited contributions for a billboard denouncing pornography. 'It hurts women and children, and we don't want it in our neighborhoods.'
Store manager Paul Dionne dismissed the protest as 'good publicity,' noting that his parking lot was nearly full of cars. Inside the store, more than 20 customers appeared oblivious to the commotion outside as they browsed through racks of X-rated magazines, videos and sex toys. Two young women in skimpy negligees sat near privacy booths, prepared to perform a variety of live sex shows for prices ranging from $20 to $50, plus $5 per minute for their time.
'What we sell is legal, and it meets a demand,' Dionne said. 'Our customers are normal people, including couples. We have customers who come all the way from the coast because there's no place to rent adult videos over there.'
The Portland area reportedly has more adult-oriented business per capita than any other American city, and their presence outrages many residents who say the businesses increase crime and decrease property values.
Although exact figures are hard to come by, the metropolitan area is home to more than 200 escort services, nearly 50 strip clubs, more than 30 video and novelty stores, and more than 20 live modeling studios.
'This is not a 'best of' list that I'm proud of,' said Portland Mayor Vera Katz, who has supported numerous efforts to regulate X-rated businesses over the years. All have failed.
In recent years, the conflict has pitted elected officials and citizens groups against a coalition of sex workers, adult-business owners and civil libertarians. Backed by the free speech provisions of the Oregon Constitution, the coalition has blocked numerous attempts to restrict X-rated business by defeating statewide ballot measures and overturning city regulations in the courts
'Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right,' Shurts said as she marched in front of Mr. Peeps.
Mr. Peeps sparks outrage
Friday's protest was sponsored by Siege, a grass-roots citizens group that includes more than 50 active members and an Internet Web site: www.siege-oregon.org. Board Chairman Brent Borchers says many of its members are Christians who believe that the growing sex industry is a sign of moral decay.
'It's just like pre-Nazi Germany,' said Borchers, referring to the debauched culture of Weimar Berlin shortly before Hitler took power. 'We have a moral obligation to speak out against it.'
Siege grew out of a large community meeting held after Mr. Peeps opened near Century High School. More than 600 local residents turned out for the meeting, which was attended by Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten.
'People were very upset that such a business had opened near schools, day-care centers and residential neighborhoods,' said Schouten, who marched in Friday's protest. 'Who can blame them?'
Dionne denies that the protesters have anything to be upset about, noting that none of the merchandise or models are visible from outside the store.
Schouten confirms that Mr. Peeps meets all zoning codes and is not considered a trouble spot by police.
'The sheriff's office drives by on routine patrols, but they haven't had to respond to an unusual number of complaints,' Schouten said. 'There are some taverns that cause a lot more problems.'
Nevertheless, Schouten wishes that local governments had the ability to zone X-rated businesses away from schools and residential areas. But the free speech provisions of the Oregon Constitution prohibit governments from regulating businesses on the basis of their content.
Borchers agrees that there's nothing the group can do legally to force the business to close. So, it is trying to discourage customers by picketing outside the store every Friday and Saturday night.
More than that, Siege members are taking pictures of cars pulling into the store's parking lot and plan to post photos of their license plates on the group's Web site.
'Some drivers get mad when we take their pictures, but if they don't want to be seen here, they shouldn't come,' Borchers said.
Citizens groups such as Siege have tried but failed to rein in the growing number of local X-rated businesses for many years. Religious groups such as the Christian Coalition have repeatedly tried to amend the Oregon Constitution to allow local governments to regulate the location of such businesses. But they repeatedly have been defeated by a well-financed coalition of X-rated business owners and civil libertarians, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
The most recent attempt was Ballot Measure 87, which appeared on the 2000 General Election ballot. It lost by a vote of 771,901 to 694,410.
The measure's supporters were outspent nearly 20 to 1 during the campaign. Two political action committees in favor of the measure Ñ the Christian Coalition of Oregon Issues PAC and Oregonians for Children Ñ spent $13,434 on their campaigns. In contrast, the No Censorship Ñ No on Measure 87 Committee spent $250,590 to defeat it.
The campaign against Measure 87 received large contributions from a range of adult businesses and free speech advocates. They included a $2,500 donation from Anabolic Video Productions, a California company that produces a series of hard-core pornography videos. Contributions also came from such First Amendment champions as the American Civil Liberties Union ($11,100) and Powell's Books ($7,500).
'A majority of Oregonians want their predilections left alone,' said Bradley Woodworth, a Portland attorney who represents the local chain of Fantasy for Adults book and video stores.
Katz, however, hopes that the next regular session of the Oregon Legislature will tackle the measure again.
'If someone introduces a new constitutional amendment, the city will support it,' she said.