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Love Boutique vs. City of (not every) Industry

August 21, 2008 |  6:00 am

When you hear the phrase "zoning law," you probably yawn. But what if enforcement of the zoning law provokes a lawsuit? And that lawsuit is on behalf of the Deja Vu Love Boutique, which sells sex toys and other things for adults?

Love_boutiqueIndustry Boutique sued City of Industry last week in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The Nevada company, which operates Deja Vu Love Boutiques in cities around California, accused the city of "violating Deja Vu's free-speech rights under the federal and state constitutions" and of preventing its customers from gaining access, from the comfort of the sex-items shop, to all the wonders that the Internet has to offer.

It seems that in May, the Deja Vu Love Boutique branch in City of Industry decided to install some terminals where customers could pay to access the Web. A code enforcement officer for the city stumbled across these Internet terminals and cited the store four separate times in June and July. The issue at hand? The city said stores can't change or alter their business "unless a use permit is granted."

Deja Vu Love Boutique (sorry, the name is just so good it deserves to be written out in full again) applied for a new use permit. The city said it couldn't be processed because Deja Vu's proposed Internet access service wasn't listed as a permitted use in Zone C. So Deja Vu Love Boutique sued.

The company argues that by refusing to grant the permit, the city engages in "prior restraint" and bans a medium of constitutionally protected speech. "What if they passed a law that said no newspapers can be permitted in the city?" said Dale Manicom, an attorney for Industry Boutique.

Douglas Mirell, a partner at Loeb & Loeb who is not affiliated with the case, agreed. First off, Mirell said, adding an Internet service to a retail store doesn't really change ...

... much about the store -- it is, after all, still a retail store. Deja Vu Love Boutique shouldn't have to get a new use permit, he said, because "the term 'retail store' seems to me to cover a multitude of sins." And no, he wasn't referring to what the store sells. 

If the city won't let businesses operate Internet kiosks, he said, it is creating a 1st Amendment issue that it is likely to lose.

Kevin Radecki, city manager for City of Industry, was cryptic about the nature of the exact problem with Deja Vu's permit. He said that property zoned as commercial has a list of permitted uses, and that "what they were wanting to do was not a permitted use." He declined to specify exactly what that was.

With a name like Deja Vu Love Boutique and a MySpace page that lists the store as "28, female, horny," it's not hard to guess what customers were using the Internet for. The complaint describes the Internet as a place that allows individuals to "access diverse sources of news, entertainment and huge data collections in a multitude of fields, whether for purposes of personal enlightenment or mere amusement." It also says that "Deja Vu as well as the public will suffer irreparable injury" if the store isn't allowed the permit. Hmmm, accessing huge data collections for amusement. Fantasy football, perhaps?

-- Alana Semuels

Screen shot of Deja Vu Love Boutique's MySpace page