Everett: Espresso stand rules are not about the bikini

EVERETT — Two new pieces of legislation aimed at bikini barista prostitution are going before the Everett City Council on Wednesday.

Each proposed ordinance would need two more council reviews before it could become law. That process could wrap up as early as August.

The proposal was rewritten after a public hearing earlier this year. The owners of family-friendly coffee huts shared concerns over some earlier language about license requirements.

“This is the city’s attempt to deal with all the crime we’re seeing at this bikini barista model of business,” assistant city attorney Ramsey Ramerman said. “I can’t emphasize enough that this bill is not about anybody being offended by seeing women in bikinis. We are trying to deal with the secondary criminal conduct we’ve seen at these stands.”

By that, he means prostitution as well as flashing body parts for money. Those behaviors at Everett stands have led to multiple criminal convictions in recent years. Former bikini baristas told police they were pressured to engage in sexual activity and lived off cash tips. One said she had never filled out an employee application or received a paycheck, records show. Others said drug use was rampant among young women at the stands. Even those who didn’t engage in prostitution frequently were propositioned, records show.

Everett has about a half-dozen bikini huts still in business.

One of the new proposed bills involves a dress code for what are called “quick service” restaurants, a category that includes fast food, food trucks and coffee stands. Employees have to wear, at a minimum, tank tops and shorts. That means no bikinis and no using body paint or stickers as bikini substitutes.

Owners whose employees are found in violation would have to pay a $250 fine and obtain a probationary license to keep operating that stand. Additional violations could lead to higher fines and losing the license, which would put that location out of business.

The second proposed bill has two prongs. One expands the definition of lewd conduct, which traditionally involves sexual activity or nudity in public places. The wording clarifies what areas of skin can be exposed.

The other prong adds a new misdemeanor to the books, called “facilitating lewd conduct.” A business owner could face jail time and a $5,000 fine for allowing or encouraging employees to engage in lewd conduct.

The legislation won’t replace the police department’s efforts to combat felony conduct, Ramerman said. However, vice investigations are expensive, complicated and time-consuming. Video surveillance tactics can be helpful for prosecution but create a public disclosure nightmare. The city has gone to court to keep its recordings of baristas’ bad behavior from ending up on the internet. One seeker of the records is a convicted rapist. That case is pending.

There are exemptions to the proposed nudity rules for the arts, political expression and other First Amendment activities. The change also wouldn’t affect someone wearing a normal cloth bikini at a public beach.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

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