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Desire to Shut Down Sex Shop No Secret

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

March 31 -- Pastor Charles Lowery smiled as he looked around at the packed pews. Some of the faces were familiar, but many were not. And they weren’t here for Bible study.

“We are as much concerned about what is going on in our neighborhood as you are,” Lowery said, referring to a soon-to-be-open business that will sell sexy lingerie and adult toys just a few hundred yards from his small church in Sunset Park.

“This was our regular Bible study night, “ the silver haired pastor told the anxious crowd. “And we’re going to study all right. We’re going to study how to get rid of it.”

Tuesday night’s emergency neighborhood meeting -- attended by more than 50 residents and half a dozen top City officials -- came together quickly following a flurry of emails just four days after residents noticed three large plastic signs advertising “Secret Desires” go up at 2414 Lincoln Boulevard.

The proximity of the pleasure shop to schools, churches and parks -- and the kinds of activities it might promote – worried the residents, who packed the Santa Monica Pentecostal Church to find out what can be done to stop it.

“It’s every bit as bad as you can imagine,” reported resident Matt Schwabe, a large, fit looking man in shorts and an NYFD tee-shirt, who spotted the store while bottle feeding his baby at home.

Schwabe said his facial expression changed, causing his wife to ask, “What’s wrong?” as he handed her the baby and hopped into his truck to investigate.

When he got there, the windows were papered over but his “many years in law enforcement” led him to peer through a space between the pages.

What he saw bothered him. “Well over half the store is dedicated to adult toys and videos,” Schwabe reported.

“It’s outrageous,” said Schwabe. “I think it’s going to be a long hard battle. We need to get our resources together and hit this thing professionally.”

Eric Gabster of the Cedar/Pine Streets Neighborhood Watch -- which organized the meeting -- said that the erotic novelty store had moved in under false pretenses.

Gabster -- who has been investigating for improprieties and ordinance violations -- said that neither the City nor the landlord “had any idea of the kind of business that was formulating there.”

City Manager Susan McCarthy seemed to confirm this, saying, “The (business) license gave no indication of the nature of the business.

“We are going to be pursuing whether or not there was deliberate misrepresentation and examine zoning ordinances to see if there is a violation,” said McCarthy. “Thanks to your vigilance, we will be able to move along with an evaluation and take action if appropriate."

Vice squad officer Robert Almada told the residents that he checked out the store, but saw nothing illegal going on.

A resident commented, “The minute they open their doors it’s going to be a lot tougher to shut them down,” sending murmurs of agreement that rumbled through the crowd.

Others suggested protest demonstrations and civil disobedience to bring the sex shop down.

Someone asked, “What is our legal right as citizens to keep the doors from opening, and if they do open can we make it less than desirable for them? Can we expect to get support form the City?”

McCarthy replied that “businesses, like individuals, have rights, but while Santa Monica respects the rights of businesses, it also bends over backwards to protect individual’s rights of expression.”

Council member Richard Bloom commented, “It would be counter productive if the City gave the appearance of being in favor with one party or the other.”

Council member Kevin McKeown cautioned that public demonstrations might actually have the unintended effect of giving the business “free advertising.”

McCarthy went on to say that “steps and procedures will be taken. We’ll be pursuing those which we think will be the most expeditious.”

Noting that a formal complaint has been filed, McCarthy told her audience to expect a silent period from the City during the investigation.

“We won’t have a lot of information to give out,” said McCarthy. “I can’t tell you how long it will take or what will be the outcome.”

Near the end of the meeting, Gabster thanked the City officials for their time and helped form an ad hoc citizens committee to deal with the problem.

After the meeting a resident commented, “There is only so much the City can do, and there is a certain amount of action that we’ll have to take to protect our neighborhood.”

The operators of “Secret Desires” did not return requests for comment.

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