Prostitution Free Zone
Salinas business organization looks to drive pimps and hoes out of town.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Along commercial side streets about a mile from Salinas’ downtown lies the county’s hot bed for prostitution.
Women aren’t typically standing on the street corner with knee-high boots, but male drivers routinely circle streets such as East Alisal, Rianda, Griffin and Kern to support the world’s oldest profession.
Monterey County’s largest city, however, may soon be unwelcome for a ring of prostitutes. Following the lead of cities like Portland and Honolulu, the Salinas United Business Association (SUBA), an East Salinas merchant’s group, is trying to establish a prostitution-free zone that aims to prevent arrested johns from becoming repeat customers.
“My idea is to raise the cost of doing business in Salinas for the pimps and prostitutes, to make it more attractive to go to another town,” says Dave Brown, SUBA’s president.
Upon the request of Councilwoman Gloria De La Rosa, the Salinas City Attorney’s Office is researching what legal options the agricultural city has to create prostitution-free zones.
By the end of the month, City Attorney Vanessa Vallarta says her office will report its findings to the City Council.
Rianda Street is heavily trafficked by men at night, despite the closure of the area’s automotive and industrial shops after 5pm. The street runs behind adult DVD store L’Amour Shoppe at 323 E. Alisal St.
While shoppers wheel their carts out of neighboring Longs Drugs and Big Lots, johns cruise the parking lots for prostitutes, which include transvestites and homosexual men.
The people who sell themselves are a combination of drug users from nearby Chinatown and professionals from other Northern California cities, who primarily work out of hotels.
Some women have a business triangle between Oakland, Fresno and Salinas, SUBA’s Brown says. Much like the Salinas Valley’s crop harvest, the peak season for prostitution runs between March and October.
Brown wants “prostitution-free” signs posted in parts of the business district, much like signs for drug-free zones are placed near school campuses.
If the city follows Portland’s model, the Salinas City Council would create the zones based on the incidence of prostitution-related offenses. Those cited or arrested are excluded from public right of ways or parks in the zones for 90 days, except for instances such as traveling, going to work and receiving social services.
Upon conviction of a prostitution-related offense, one is barred from the zone for a year. If caught back in a zone after being cited, one could be fined as much as $500 or sent to jail for as many as 30 days.
Starting this past summer, prosecutors in the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office began requesting that offenders be excluded from certain zones as a condition of their probation.
But if Salinas adopted Portland’s policy, those caught back in the zones for unlawful reasons could be arrested for trespassing on top of a parole violation.
The prostitution-free zones overlap drug-free areas and allow regular beat cops to intervene in the drug and sex trade, says Wayne Pearson, senior deputy district attorney in Multnomah County, Oregon.
“We’ve ended up with something that allows the district officers…to actually do something about a problem that they drive by everyday and wish they can do something about,” Pearson says.
Certain trouble areas have shifted to other parts of the city, but some have disappeared altogether since the law was adopted in the early ‘90s, he says.
Salinas would have to adopt legislation and an ordinance—preferably one that stands up in court—and then train employees to implement it fairly, says Vallarta.
“It would require extensive resources of the police department and the city attorney’s office,” she says.
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Portland’s law has been opposed by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which say it denies people the right to travel freely and subjects them to punishment before conviction.
But Portland’s policy has held its ground legally, even withstanding a double jeopardy challenge in Oregon Supreme Court.
Moreover, the initiative would give police officers another way to crack down on streetwalking besides conducting sting operations, which are periodically done in Salinas using a female decoy to lure johns.
Ultimately, SUBA is trying to reverse the perception that the thriving East Salinas business corridor is unsafe.
The first step is cleaning up the crime, Brown says, so that it can attract and retain businesses—just not illegal ones.