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Strip club protest focuses on livability

Neighbors say they've endured 'soap opera' of issues, complaints
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Oregon Liquor Control Commission inspector Steve Pharo (right) talks with Southeast Portland residents living near the Blush Gentlemen's Club about recent nuisance complaints in the neighborhood. 

Residents surrounding Blush and Acropolis, two erotic dance clubs on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard, plan to protest Friday afternoon what they say is harassment of the clubs' neighbors.

More than 50 people are expected as SOS Oregon and the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League plan to picket the clubs beginning at 6 p.m.

That's welcome news to Mike Ross and his wife, who have lived next to Blush for almost two years.

'We've sat at the kitchen table so many times late at night and discussed moving,' says Ross. 'We're so intimidated and they make our lives so miserable that we don't want to complain to the police.'

Protesters will rally against Blush, Acropolis and a second location of Northwest Portland's Casa Diablo strip club set to open before Christmas - pending approval of a liquor license - in the vacant building across a parking lot from the Acropolis club.

Although Oregon Liquor Control Commission officials and police say crime in the area doesn't amount to a serious problem, life around Blush and Acropolis is 'a bad soap opera,' according to Eric Miller, SMILE member-at-large.

The disparity between official tallies and neighborhood narratives of the impact wrought by strip clubs on Portland residential zones is a common divide. Friday's protest will amplify a local version of a citywide reality: official records and block perspectives tell different stories about adult businesses in the McLoughlin area and neighborhoods across Portland.

'I want to be able to walk on the street,' says Lisa Leithauser, a 46-year-old mother who helped form SOS Oregon five years ago in response to a growing number of strip clubs in the Southwest Canyon Road area.

'My first position was, 'I'm a nice person. I can negotiate. I can get these guys to work nicely in the neighborhood,' ' says Leithauser. 'I found out quickly that's not going to happen.'

The protests are 'calm,' according to Leithauser. SOS members hold signs that say 'Portland #2 in sex trafficking' and, borrowing Ashton Kutcher's anti-prostitution campaign slogan: 'Real Men Don't Buy Girls.'

Ross isn't sure what words his sign will display, but he says he can think of a few. Tensions are high between the owner of Blush and neighbors living behind the strip club - particularly Ross, his wife and another couple across the street, who have complained several times about Blush to Portland police, the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement, OLCC and the Bureau of Developmental Services.

According to Ross, the surveillance cameras in the parking lot of Blush are horizontal to his living room, kitchen and dining room, and he says he went to visit the business owner in his office last year and saw his kitchen table on one of the security monitors.

A spotlight beaming over the parking lot bothered Ross and his wife, too, and was found by OLCC's light meter to be above legal limits, but the club's owner called Portland General Electric to lower the wattage this March after he was fined twice.

Rami Makboul, a 31-year-old from Beaverton who owns Blush, refused to comment on the neighbors' allegations. 'I'll only say that everything my neighbor says is a lie,' he says.

Theresa Marchetti, city Office of Neighborhood Involvement's liquor licensing specialist, says none of the neighbors' complaints can result in action by the city.

'There's nothing specific,' she says. 'Noise from the parking lot isn't something we regulate, and there's nothing preventing the patrons of a commercial establishment from parking on a public street.'

Marchetti tried to arrange a mediation session with Makboul and Blush neighbors after she met with Ross and others in March, but Makboul refused to participate.

According to Sgt. Rich Steinbronn, neighborhoods around Blush and Acropolis don't generate many complaints.

'Traditionally, a neighbor sees a lot more stuff than we do,' he says. 'By the time we get there, it's long over. At this point in time, we don't have the resources to post someone up there. Most of our resources are concentrated downtown.'

About two miles down McLoughlin from Blush, the Acropolis - a 35-year-old landmark among Portland strip clubs - hosts a maintenance worker who lives in a shack below the club on the industrial-zoned bank of Johnson Creek.

Leithauser plans to alert river-health groups and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, fearing that the creek-side shack could be filling the creek with litter and impacting the livability of the neighborhood.