THE BUSINESS OF PLEASURE 

With city officials estimating that the Northeast Side will have 99 percent of San Antonio's SOBs within a decade, these sexually oriented businesses are commonly portrayed as a social plague. They are literally a constituency without representation. Regardless of the candidate's political biases, a disdain for District 10's sex establishments is obligatory.

For instance, Chip Haass, a 25-year-old government and history teacher at St. Mary's Hall, considers himself the "anti-establishment" candidate in this year's District 10 race, but he shares the status quo's longstanding desire to drive the business of pleasure out of the Northeast Side.

"I find those particular businesses in some cases an eyesore, and in other cases, morally repugnant," Haass says. "The worst examples of that are the two businesses next to Serna Elementary School. On whoever's watch that was allowed, that was a big mistake."

The two clubs Haass cites are Wild Zebra Men's Club and Palace Men's Club, both less than a block west of the school. In 2001, the city targeted both clubs - along with Babe's Men's Club - in an amortization plan requiring them to change locations. The plan is an implementation of a 1995 city ordinance forbidding adult-oriented businesses within 1,000 feet of a church, school, or residential area. The first club to be affected, Palace Men's Club, will be moving to an undisclosed location by the end of May.

For Palace general manager Trey Maddox, SOB-bashing by council candidates is an example of political expedience. "With all the corruption that's in the city, and with the lowest crime-solving rate in the country, I think they need to focus a lot more on bigger, more important issues than us," Maddox says. "Our particular club caters to white-collar individuals, we have many couples and ladies who come in to see us. We're one of the best restaurants in town, we've got as good a wine selection as anybody in town. For them to be targeting us and wasting police dollars on us is really putting the cart before the horse."

In addition to the topless bars on the Northeast side, Haass is also irked by the prominent presence of the Adult Video Megaplexx near the I-35/Loop 410 interchange. "I've been talking to people in the district," Haass says, "and one common feeling is that it sends a bad message about San Antonio to people driving in from Austin or San Marcos that the first thing they see when they're coming into town is the Megaplexx."

Although no definitive studies have connected area crime rates with sexually oriented businesses on the Northeast Side, most District 10 candidates believe the correlation is obvious. "It needs a complete cleanup," Rohde says. "The crime rate there is nothing to be proud of. If getting rid of that sex circus is what it takes to improve things, we should do it."

The likely frontrunner in District 10, zoning commissioner John Clamp, takes the most measured tone in assessing sexually oriented establishments. "That is an area that has traditionally had sexually oriented businesses, and under the current law there's very little we can do to keep SOBs out of that area," Clamp says.

"The main thing that drives those SOBs out of an area is economic development, getting businesses in that can make money and push out that kind of activity. We're seeing a little of that on Austin Highway. H-E-B is building a new store and there's a Wal-Mart coming in. Slowly but surely, those kinds of establishments will be pushed out because of the value of the land."

Both Clamp and Rohde agree that their potential constituents are more preoccupied with other issues this election year, particularly with the dark cloud of scandal hovering over the council.

"The constituents aren't screaming about it," Clamp says. "They're more worried about taxes and basic services. I can make it a big campaign issue, but I'm not sure I have a whole lot of power to do anything about it. But we'll be very vigilant." •


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