‘Bikini baristas’: Cities explore options for coverup

EVERETT — People fighting “sexpresso” stands in Snohomish County may learn from a Pierce County community’s efforts.

After hearing complaints about topless baristas working in drive-through espresso stands, elected officials in Bonney Lake are searching for ways to regulate these businesses.

Snohomish County leaders are also fielding angry calls and letters from residents concerned about a growing number of roadside stands with bikini- and lingerie-clad coffee maidens.

Tonight, the Bonney Lake City Council is expecting a report from the city attorney on the city’s legal options for regulating what some consider roadside peep shows.

A legal expert in municipal law says the city’s options may be limited.

The report is planned after a weekend when community protests were scheduled in Bonney Lake. Opponents say one coffee stand that allows female employees to wear little more than stickers on their breasts are offensive and cross community standards of decency.

Still, police say the stands don’t appear to violate the city’s current indecent-exposure or lewd-conduct ordinances. To take action could invite a First Amendment legal battle, they say.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out what can really be done, and can it be called obscene as opposed to freedom of expression?” Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson said.

Lynnwood Police officers have investigated complaints of a stand on Highway 99 whose baristas wear pasties. They have also concluded the attire in itself is not lewd.

“Pasties are certainly pushing the envelope,” Lynnwood City Councilman Jim Smith said. “But I don’t know if we can regulate it, short of zoning it. The question is, does this fall under the adult entertainment category? If so, we have a certain zone where they are to be located.”

That’s something Johnson would like to see in Bonney Lake.

Opponents in Snohomish County are organizing against these stands. However, no cities have taken up the matter.

Everett has received a few complaints about stands, some outside the city limits.

“Up until this point, we’ve taken a look at our procedures and laws on the books and have not found any stands in Everett being in violation of anything we have the ability to enforce,” Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

Mukilteo City Councilman Kevin Stoltz said he’s heard about a stand on Mukilteo’s border with Everett.

“All I know is it’s a bikini hut,” he said. “My wife and daughter aren’t too crazy about them being there, but I don’t think there’s anything we can really do about it.”

Pam James, a legal expert in municipal law, says he may be right.

“If they are merely risqué, there really isn’t much that can be done about them except community pressure,” said James, an attorney with Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.

She has researched the issue for Washington cities.

If a city could prove negative secondary effects such as increased robberies, prostitution, loitering or rape, it might be able to make a case for adult entertainment rules to limit where businesses can operate and impose age restrictions for patrons and employees, she said.

To meet the definition of a moral nuisance under state law, employees would have to make obscene gestures or lewd performances, she said.

The state Legislature could change the definition of lewd acts and peep shows, but it would have to strike a delicate balance.

“It would have to be drafted in a way that protects the freedom of expression, balanced against the impact,” she said.

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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