– The Hill Road
club that opened in June, just walking distance from
million-dollar hillside homes and Jackson Elementary School, has
shut its Morgan Hill operation down, clearing the South County
slate of publicly known sex clubs.
By ERIC LEINS and PETER CROWLEY
South Valley Newspapers
MORGAN HILL – The Hill Road “swingers” club that opened in June, just walking distance from million-dollar hillside homes and Jackson Elementary School, has shut its Morgan Hill operation down, clearing the South County slate of publicly known sex clubs.
County Zoning Investigator Jim Lanz confirmed last week that The Arena swingers club has moved out of the 16220 Hill Road residence it had been using for its partner-swapping parties.
Operators at one point had contended county zoning laws allowed the club to operate in the rural enclave just south of the Morgan Hill city border. But when county zoning officials told operators they interpreted the rules differently, Arena operators decided not to fight.
“They can always appeal to the county Planning Commission, but save your money, it’s not going to happen,” Lanz said.
The Hill Road property is zoned for medium-scale agriculture and residential uses, not a commercial enterprise. While The Arena charges money to its club members, its operators claimed the parties were private gatherings at a private home rather than a business.
“My office doesn’t really see these places as being sex clubs; we see them as being commercial gatherings of people,” Lanz said. “If someone were to come in and open a commercial book club or a commercial Tupperware club in a rural zoning district, we would come in.”
A provision in the county zoning ordinance does allow nonprofit, private clubs to gather, but there are conditions put on those gatherings. Namely, they must serve the local, rural community.
“When you have patrons from all over the Bay Area, that’s hardly local and rural,” Lanz said.
Another part of what separates legal and illegal gatherings in non-commercial zones is whether guests are friends of the host or members of the general public, according to Lanz.
“I can invite friends over to my house for dinner,” Lanz said. “I don’t think I can charge my friends for dinner. I can’t open up my house to the first 20 people who want to buy a meal from me.”
It is unknown where The Arena club holds its gatherings now. Its Web site no longer displays the Morgan Hill number it once used. Currently, the Web site, www.arenaswingclub.com, has a phone number in the East Bay’s 510 area code.
Neighbors are breathing a sigh of relief these days after movers carted away furniture and even the driveway lights that used to guide dozens of cars each Friday and Saturday night to the 4,000-square-foot residence.
Nearby resident Karen Turnlund said parties stopped around the first weekend in September after TV news crews began covering the story and camped out one Friday night.
“It’s pretty much done and over now,” Turnlund said. “Weekend nights are quiet again, and the house looks in pretty good shape.”
Turnlund was one of several neighbors who complained to county zoning officials and the Sheriff’s Department in June. Neighbors became suspicious that a sex club had moved in when they saw velvet couches delivered and window coverings installed back in late May.
Once scores of cars frequented the home each Friday and Saturday night, neighbors launched complaints, kicking off a more than two-month process to remove the club.
If the operators had not cooperated, the county could have put a notice of violation (similar to a lien) on the property and fined the owners of the home $180 a day.
The Adult Forum Social Club, which shut its doors some time before The Arena opened, now claims to be meeting in San Jose hotels. Government zoning agencies forced The Adult Forum Social Club to move from a Dryden Avenue house outside Gilroy and, before that, a house in the City of Gilroy on Bolsa Road.
It had operated for years out of a home in Morgan Hill on Railroad Avenue, before operator Deena Luce moved it to Gilroy.
If these or other such clubs raise complaints in the future, the county plans to deal with them case-by case. A sweeping change to county legislation is unlikely.
County District 1 Supervisor Don Gage said he doesn’t expect any new county legislation regarding sex clubs because current laws already deal with them as strictly as is possible, given the First Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution.
By actively enforcing existing zoning, Gage said he thinks sex-club operators have “got the message now that they’re not wanted” in South County.
“I would say both of those business operators have had experiences of dealing with local laws that weren’t enjoyable to them, and I think they’ll be more cognizant of local zoning laws in the future,” Lanz said.
Government cannot deny permits to businesses simply because they are sex clubs, but it can impose restrictions: for example, not allowing them near schools.
Other commercial sex clubs, however, could be operating quietly, without neighbors’ complaints to draw attention to them.