Many of the 85,000 residents in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria panicked when they learned that BC Books, a major pornographic outlet, planned to open a "superstore" within 1,000 feet of three churches, a retirement community, a new residential subdivision, and a daycare center. Activities in and around the chain's eight other Phoenix stores prompted more than 7,800 calls to police in 1997, to investigate illegal drug use, assault, indecent exposure, rape, and even two murders. Peoria city officials and a coalition of citizens turned to the National Family Legal Foundation (NFLF) for help.

"We didn't know what to do, where to go, what our legal rights were," recalls Kimberly Myers, spokesperson for Peoria Citizens' Committee on Adult Uses. "NFLF came in and gave us the tools to make a difference."

Annual revenues of the porn industry are pegged at $8 billion—more than Hollywood's legitimate box-office receipts. Outspent and outmaneuvered in courts and in legislatures by wealthy pornographers, NFLF shifted its tactics away from fighting printed obscene materials on the national level to regulating sexually oriented businesses on the local level. The strategy of targeting city peddlers of the materials rather than its producers has proven successful.

"Our focus is not on the moral decay in America," says Scott Bergthold, executive director of NFLF, "but rather the tangible effects of the moral decay which local governments are quick to recognize—an increase in crimes, lower property values leading to lower tax revenues, and health and safety issues like the spread of aids and other sexually transmitted diseases." The plan works, in part, because local residents have something at stake. "It's hard to mobilize people at the grassroots level on national issues unless it's affecting them in their own backyard," Bergthold says. "But when something pops up close to home, people jump to their feet."

ONE CITY AT A TIME: In Peoria, NFLF worked with the city attorney to explain legal restrictions that could be placed on the location and operation of sexually oriented businesses that would take away financial incentives to operate. The Peoria City Council passed a 27-page NFLF-based ordinance that ultimately caused the chain to abandon plans to open the sex superstore. In fact, five of the chain's eight outlets in Phoenix have closed, and owner Tamara Thomas Green, faced with myriad legal and financial problems—some of them resulting from NFLF's campaign—has announced plans to close or sell the remaining three and leave the state in a plea-bargaining agreement in which she will pay a $250,000 fine.

"Some folks focus their efforts on Congress," Bergthold says, "but we think we're more effective in winning the battle one city at a time. The law is in favor of local communities regulating these businesses, but you can't take them on all at once."

NFLF's campaign C.O.P.E.—Community Ordinances Protect Everyone—aims to pass strong, constitutionally enforceable ordinances in 1,000 cities by the end of next year. Through 1998, NFLF had assisted more than 250 cities in passing and defending such laws.

In order to reach its ambitious goal with limited staff and resources, NFLF has begun leading training seminars hosted by statewide Leagues of Cities, where public officials in large gatherings can learn how to enact stringent, constitutionally sound ordinances. An expanded Web site that could function as an online legal library on the subject is also planned.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Myers says the victory sends a message that pornography will not "play in Peoria." She says, "We're one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. We didn't want this type of influence on our kids."

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