After reading my Aug. 1 column “Downtown cabaret plan sure to rile morality police,” Dean Smeltzer of Modesto felt obligated – no, make that energized – to step forward as one of them.
Like many others in the community, Smeltzer absolutely opposes the idea of a Beverly Hills-based corporation opening an adult entertainment club in the former St. Stan’s Brewery at Ninth and L streets, across Ninth from the DoubleTree Hotel and Modesto Centre Plaza convention center.
“I wrote a letter to the editor,” Smeltzer said. It appeared on modbee.com over the weekend and in Monday’s Bee print edition. “But I realized that anyone can write a letter to the editor. I had to take it a step further.”
Which he did by creating an anti-cabaret online petition on change.org that he titled “Petitioning Modesto City Council: Keep Downtown Modesto Family Friendly.” Smeltzer, 27, ran unsuccessfully for Modesto City Schools’ board in 2013. He makes his living eradicating vermin for a local pest control company (I’ll let you draw whatever parallels you deem fit).
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While some Modesto residents have no problem with such a club going in downtown, Smeltzer and others have a real problem with it. So he posted his petition on Facebook, using the social media site to circulate it, and enlisted friend Amber Gariety of Modesto to do the same. Within 24 hours, the petition gathered more 90 “signatures,” and Smeltzer is well on his way to achieving his goal of at least 500 people signing on. They plan to present the petition to Modesto City Council members at some point. If nothing else, it could give the city an indication of the level of support it has in fighting the lawsuit filed by a firm representing the group wanting to open the club.
“As many (signatures) as we can get,” he said.
More than 30 people added their comments after signing and, as expected with a petition of that nature, none sided with the strip show/dance cabaret. They believe it will lead to all kinds of crime, including prostitution, and undo years of trying to make the downtown a more family-friendly place which, until the Gallo Center for the Arts opened in 2007, it definitely was not.
Years ago, then-Bee Business Editor Dave Hill and I sold Kids’ Day fundraiser newspapers at the corners of Ninth and L. I took the corner in front of the parking garage. Dave hawked papers in front of St. Stan’s. I heard some yelling and looked across the street to see a female prostitute yelling at him to get off her corner, that he was costing her money. It was 9 a.m. No kidding.
Gariety said the mere idea of such a club in the downtown area would be a game changer for people who otherwise enjoy shows and events.
“It has been a long time since I went to an event downtown and worried about my safety,” Gariety said. “I will think twice before attending anything, even at the beautiful Gallo Center, if I have to worry about the rabble that will be pouring into and out of a business like that, not to mention the likely increase in drug and prostitution traffic that will inevitably follow its opening. It will impact every business we have downtown in a negative way. I would just as soon stay far away from anything like that and take my business elsewhere in town. This type of debased ‘entertainment’ has no place in our community.”
This effort, started by one, nonetheless represents citizen involvement. It lacks the numbers of Citizens Leading Effective Action Now, a group led by Councilman Harry Kullijian to fight pornography in the city. That group eventually claimed 4,500 members. Generally in the Modesto area, the same few people chime in on every topic that goes before the council, the Board of Supervisors and other boards. Otherwise, people tend to get active only when it directly affects their neighborhood, a new development, road construction, whatever.
Smeltzer’s effort, however, likely will represent a broader spectrum of residents from throughout the city and will have an ally CLEAN did not: social media, where every member can reach all of his or her friends, they can share with all of their friends, and a network is born.
“I don’t know of anyone else downtown who would want (the cabaret),” he said.
Council members might be hearing from constituents, but have been counseled by the city attorney not to discuss the club issue because it involves ongoing litigation, District 4 Councilman Bill Zoslocki said.
“(Opponents) are definitely within their constitutional rights (to circulate the petition),” he said. “That’s all I can say.”
After all, promoters of the club want the courts to decide the issue.
Said Smeltzer, “We just want a show of integrity against it.”