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Originally published Friday, October 27, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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The Times endorses

Seattle's 4-foot rule: Vote Yes

The only thing complicated about Seattle's Referendum 1 is remembering that a "yes" vote keeps new rules — and a little space between...

The only thing complicated about Seattle's Referendum 1 is remembering that a "yes" vote keeps new rules — and a little space between dancers and customers — in local strip clubs.

Dancing, naked or clothed, is a lawful expression of free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court said so. Grinding away on customers in the dark for tips is not. Lap dancing is sex for hire. Regulations that turn up the lights, prohibit direct tipping and separate dancers from patrons by a distance of 4 feet to discourage sexual contact are nothing new. Los Angeles has similar rules, and they are in place in communities around King and Snohomish counties.

Something happens when such rules are on the books and enforced. Call them market forces. Dancers work as contractors. They pay club owners for the opportunity to generate lucrative tips up close and personal with customers via so-called private dances. Separate dancers from their sources of income and the clubs cannot recruit enough interpretive artists or attract enough First Amendment supporters to stay in business.

Certainly, this economic dynamic is known to City Hall, which is in a bit of a political bind. For 17 years, the city had a cozy arrangement with a handful of clubs granted a virtual monopoly. A moratorium kept clubs out of new neighborhoods and avoided complaints from angry voters. That special deal was challenged and undone by the courts.

So how to stop a stampede of strip joints into any commercial zone?

City Hall tried to create a special adult-entertainment zone and put all new operators in the Sodo district. Local residents rightfully protested being designated a red-light district and the idea went away.

Referendum 1 imposes legal impediments on illicit behavior. Vote yes to keep dancers and customers at arm's length.

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