The city of Long Beach could become Los Angeles County’s next hot spot for the porn industry if the City Council doesn’t enact an ordinance with the same restrictions of a voter-approved county measure that mandates condom use among adult-film actors.
During last week’s election, Measure B, also known as the “Los Angeles County Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act,” passed by more than 12 percentage points, with 56.23 percent of voters approving and 43.77 percent voting against. But, according to the county’s legal analysis of the initiative, the law doesn’t apply to the cities of Long Beach, Pasadena and Vernon, since these cities have their own health departments. According to an internal memo that Los Angeles County Counsel John Krattli provided to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on July 23, these cities would “have to enact a similar adult-film industry condom requirement ordinance and enforce it themselves.”
Cities with their own health departments currently do not contract with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH), which would be responsible for enforcing the new law. Instead, these cities have their own health officers, who only enforce state health laws and their own municipal health codes, according to the memo.
Long Beach City Attorney Robert Shannon said the City is currently determining whether Long Beach is, in fact, exempt from Measure B, but said he suspects the City will “ultimately agree” with the County’s legal conclusion. He added, however, that it was “disingenuous” of the County to put a measure on the ballot without a requirement that it would apply across the entire county. “Folks in Long Beach, no doubt, voted on the assumption it would apply to Long Beach,” Shannon said. Although he said the issue is not on the top of the City’s “to do” list, Shannon said that, “On any given Tuesday the City of Long Beach could pass an ordinance that would apply the same restrictions that would apply countywide.”
However, Tom Modica, director of government affairs for Long Beach, told the Signal Tribune that, in its “initial review,” the City has a “slightly different interpretation” of Measure B than the County. He said materials on both the measure and the impartial analysis, also drafted by Krattli, imply that the measure “applies countywide.” It was only until after the measure passed, with 53 percent of Long Beach voters in favor, that the City learned about the County’s analysis that Long Beach would be exempt, Modica said.
He said city officials have not made any statements on whether the City supports porn production relocating to the city or not. He added that city officials are aware of only one instance in the last 10 years when a producer pulled permits for adult filming.
On Nov. 9, DPH said in a prepared statement that it is in the process of determining a regulatory approach to Measure B, adding that it will be working closely with the Los Angeles County CEO’s office and county counsel on issues regarding implementation, compliance and creation of an infrastructure that meet the requirements of the law.
“[DPH] is committed to the health and well-being of all residents,” said the statement. “As such, we continue to take action to address sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, in the adult-film industry. These actions include monitoring, surveillance and investigation of reportable cases of communicable disease, and promotion of increased education, consistent use of condoms, and testing and treatment within the adult-film industry.”
Ged Kenslea, spokesperson for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored the measure, however, said, for the law to be applicable to Long Beach, the City Council would simply have to advise the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department to follow county code, which was the case with the county’s restaurant inspection and grading system. “There’s a template set up for enforcement,” he said. Kenslea also said that the DPH would closely collaborate with local cities to enforce the law and may opt to outsource the work to a private-duty nursing agency that would be responsible for conducting unannounced “spot inspections” at filming locations. He said Measure B is merely a way to “step up enforcement” of California and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration statutes, such as laws that require that nurses and doctors wear latex gloves.
Michael Johnson, spokesperson for the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department, said that, while the City Council has the jurisdiction to adopt an ordinance, he is unsure whether the health department has the resources to enforce such restrictions. “This is not our line of work,” he said.
LA County Supervisor Don Knabe said the county board put the measure on the ballot to prevent a lawsuit since the sponsor of the measure met all requirements of the initiative process, including gathering the required amount of signatures. Although the board didn’t take a position on Measure B, Knabe said, looking back, he would have voted against it. “This is confusing,” Knabe said. “With all the enforcement issues, we don’t know what it’s going to cost us… We were sort of forced into a corner.”
Sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Measure B requires that all performers in adult films throughout the county use condoms, in addition to mandating that producers of the films obtain a public health permit from DPH. The producers are also required to pay a permit fee set by DPH to offset the cost of enforcement.
The Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the porn industry, which is the main opposition to the measure, however, has expressed its intention to file a lawsuit against the county, stating that the law is “unconstitutional on the grounds of forced expression” and falls within the jurisdiction of the State of California, not local government. The group has requested that the county suspend any implementation until the courts have rendered a decision on the case. The more-than-a-billion-dollar industry has also already threatened to leave the county’s San Fernando Valley to possibly Las Vegas or Florida in order to be able to film condom-free, also stating that it would take its 10,000 associated jobs with it.
Additionally, the fact that Long Beach remains exempt from the law has now raised questions whether porn producers would relocate to the city. “It could move the entire industry to Long Beach,” said Signal Hill City Councilmember Larry Forester, who has lived with AIDS since 1984. “Could it be an economic engine for Long Beach? Absolutely. Is it an economic engine they should go after? Absolutely not.”
The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on the measure and has declined to comment to the Signal Tribune.
Kenslea, however, said it is unlikely the porn industry would relocate into Long Beach. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case … it’s too entrenched in the industry,” he said, adding that the industry will likely just continue violating the law instead.
Forester, who worked with the Yes on Measure B campaign, which brought a large bus through Long Beach even though the city might be exempt from the rules, said Long Beach, Pasadena and Vernon should adopt ordinances as soon as possible. Morally, Forester said he’s not going to make a judgment call for people, but healthwise, the portrayal of unprotected sex could be a dangerous, slippery slope for today’s youth who may feel propelled to act it out. “Dealing with HIV and AIDS myself, I believe that we need to not promote unsafe sex… yes, it is a fantasy world, but for many people, particularly the younger generation, that fantasy world very easily becomes a reality,” he said. “You’re playing with people’s lives.”
Michael Buitron, an outreach and intake specialist at the Comprehensive AIDS Resource and Education (CARE) program at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, said there are currently 6,000 people in the city who have tested positive for HIV and 1,500 who have it but don’t know. He said testing continues to be the best way to prevent the spread of STDs, HIV and AIDS but people will always find a way around any safe-sex mandate.
Ron Sylvester, chair of the Gay & Lesbian Center of Greater Long Beach, said the organization “advocates condom use to clients as it drastically reduces the chance of HIV and STD transmissions,” but the nonprofit didn’t endorse or contribute to Measure B.