First they came for the smokers. . .
First they came for the smokers. . .
Fred Harper

Up in Smoke

The Bird's been keeping a beady eye on the competition of late -- and not because it wants to learn how to bore its readers to death. No, this faux falcon has been flying over Cancer Corner, that downtown spot formerly known as Second Street and Van Buren, just outside the Arizona Republic building, where that daily's scribes routinely gather to suck on fags.

Or they did, anyway, until the daily paper's corporate owners, the Gannett Company, recently announced a "smoking surcharge" at all 99 of its newspapers.

Seems Gannett has joined a growing number of corporations across the country fed up with black-lunged staffers sucking up company time in five-minute increments. These piss-on-your-rights conglomerates are in bed with a nation of health insurance companies sick of processing so many smoking-related claims, and the result is a self-righteous suck-off that happily discriminates against folks who'd rather fight than switch.


Arizona Republic

Which is why, starting January 1, the Republic will charge its tobacco-addicted employees an extra $50 a month toward their health insurance costs. Which, The Bird thinks, sends a clear message: "This is exactly what you deserve for choosing such a filthy, stinking habit, you leaf-loving morons!"

Needless to say, the Republic has its own spin on the matter.

"I would prefer to call it a 'wellness credit,'" says Republic benefits coordinator Barb Manning of the tobacco fine. "If you don't smoke, you receive a $600 credit for the year applied to your medical contributions. So, when you do the math, a nonsmoking employee pays $50 less per month than an employee who does smoke."

Not so fast, Babs! The Bird isn't buying your Jedi mind tricks. And neither do the pair of Gannett employees it busted on Cancer Corner last week, who gave up an extra five minutes of carcinogenic meditation to rag on the no-smoking sham Gannett's imposing.

According to the Republic drones -- a couple of live-hard-and-die-fast, chain-smoking IT clones -- both Miss Manning and employee benefits specialist Sheila Vasquez have been about as clear on the company's new smoking surcharge as a brown cloud in August.

"No one's really told us what constitutes a 'smoker,'" one of these techies said. "If I go play poker with my buddies once a month and puff a cigar, am I a smoker?" (Probably not; you're probably just someone who needs to get out more.) Equally unclear to these puff-happy staffers is how Gannett will determine who's smoking, and where and when. Perhaps some of that 50-bucks-per will be spent on smoker-surveillance cameras or on spies who will bird-dog Republic staffers suspected to be puff daddies. Outside of their posts, this vulture's IT pals claim, employees will be on the honor system about whether they like a Tareyton or two.

"And what about a surcharge for the drinkers, the drug users," the other geek whispered, "and the overeaters? Where do you draw the line?"

Well, this tweeter draws the line at having secondhand smoke blown in its face, but the poor slob's point is well taken. Even Republic employees should be allowed to smoke. Or maybe make that especially Republic employees should be allowed to smoke. But not according to the convoluted rules of Gannett, come the first of the year. And the rules are elucidated as cleverly by Republic spokesperson Vasquez as they would be by most Republic reporters:

"Our corporate office says you're either pregnant or you're not," Vasquez said. "The same goes for smoking. You're either a smoker or you're not."

Stopping Jenna

Thanks to the Scottsdale City Council's unanimous vote last week, visiting a strip club in that city come March will be about as titillating as partying with librarians.

There will be no lap dances. And no nudity. Clubs will have to erect a four-foot barrier between dancers and customers. If a dancer dares to visit with her customers after performing, The Bird has heard, she'd better be covered up.

And forget about a friendly handshake. Todd Borowsky, owner of Scottsdale's Skin Cabaret, says he's spent some time examining the council's newly passed policy. Even the most platonic of touches between stripper and strippee, he tells this avian, appear to be strictly verboten.

"It's the most extreme law in the state," Borowsky squawks. "They're attempting to put us out of business."

Hey, Todd. What was your first clue?

But if Scottsdale was hoping for a first-round knockout, it's got another think coming. Porn star Jenna Jameson, who recently purchased an interest in Scottsdale's other strip club, Babe's Cabaret, is launching a petition drive. If her minions can scrape together 3,384 signatures by January 11, the council's decision will go to a citywide vote. Word has reached The Bird that the earliest possible date for that vote would be May 16.

Scottsdale City Clerk Carolyn Jagger tells this feathered fiend that Borowsky and his attorney have also filed preliminary paperwork for a referendum to block the council's ban, but that the two strip-club owners aren't officially working together.

Jameson's lawyers have also announced that they're planning to file a lawsuit against the city in federal court. They appear to have noticed that Scottsdale wasn't interested in the two titty bars in question -- or even enforcing the laws already on its books governing strippers -- until Jameson announced that she was purchasing the club.

As far as the law is concerned, experts say Scottsdale's new ordinance isn't a sure thing for either side. The regulations governing adult businesses are a constant tug of war between strip-club owners (guided by their First Amendment advocates) and politicians who toss out phrases like "protecting the children."

What's for sure is, there'll be leagues of professional petition gatherers, campaign consultants, and, of course, lawyers feathering their own nests with the cash from all this naughtiness nonsense.

Ironically, the city itself may have more to lose on the financial front. Jameson isn't just a porn star, she's an adult industry mogul. No less than Entertainment Weekly's estimated her company's profits at about $15 million annually.

And Scottsdale? Well, it's got taxpayers. And the taxpayers might want to take a look at a recent decision from the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled that, after years of trying to put tougher restrictions on sexually oriented businesses, the city of Nashville, Tennessee, owed its opponents a whopping $536,535.22 in legal fees.

That's right: $536,535. And 22 cents. Which doesn't even cover the fees that Nashville paid its attorneys.

So take it from this pretend pigeon: These bimbo restrictions would be bad for lap dancing, but they'd be very, very good for the legal flies who swarm around such controversy.

Lion taming

Developers want to obliterate another historic downtown building (in Phoenix-speak, that's any building that's more than three weeks old) and put up a big, shiny resort hotel.

So what else's new?

Well, this time, local preservationists have been joined by the PHX's Asian-American community in claiming that compromising the historic Sun Mercantile building, 232 South Third Street, erected in 1929 by Shing Tang, the immigrant father of late former Phoenix vice mayor Thomas Tang, is akin to race discrimination.

To be fair, the co-developers, Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver and sports mogul Jerry Colangelo, don't want to bulldoze Sun Merc, which is said to be the last landmark left of Phoenix's 1920s Chinatown. (Hey, who knew Phoenix had a Chinatown?)

Instead, Sarver and Colangelo want to drop an 11-story high-rise on top of the building and raise an adjacent 39-story luxury hotel and condominium complex. The developers' thinking seems to be, "Hey, look, we're keeping most of the outside of the building. Chill out!"

The city's Historic Preservation Commission didn't buy this load of hooey, and recently rejected the developers' design for the high-end residential hotel, called the W Phoenix, claiming it violated federal and city historic preservation guidelines.

"They've torn down all the other Chinatown buildings," Steve Dreiseszun muttered last week to The Bird. Dreiseszun is president of the FQ Story Preservation Association and a member of Downtown Voices, an advocacy group invested in protecting what's left of Ye Olde Downtown.

"The only reason Sun Merc was spared when Colangelo built America West Arena is because it didn't happen to be in the way. Sun Merc has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places for 20 years!"

When preservation forces dared to ask Sarver (who refused to return any of The Bird's phone calls) and company to set aside 4,500 square feet in the city-owned building for an Asian-American history museum, Sarver balked and ran like a sissy to the Phoenix City Council to appeal the city preservation office's decision.

The Bird swooped down on that meeting recently, which was preceded by a wacky Chinese Lion Dance performed by Asian community members. The ritual was meant to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits that might be lurking at City Hall.

It didn't work.

The big, bad developers won the day. The city council voted unanimously to allow them to go ahead with their plan, which prompted Barry Wong, a former state representative and co-chairman of the Save SunMerc Coalition, to snark: "Colangelo and Sarver say they're going to work with the Asian-American community, but I don't know . . ."

The developers, having prevailed, now appear to be tossing a bone regarding the proposed history museum.

"Sarver's saying they can't commit to the space for a museum," Dreiseszun said, "because they haven't done their space planning yet. But they're saying they might do a 1,000-square-foot memorial outside, and maybe another 1,000 [square feet for something else Chinese-related] inside."

Please! Sarver and Colangelo have hundreds of thousands of square feet to play with, and they can't promise 4,000 of it to preserve a piece of the Chinatown we're just now finding out we've had for 76 years?

If The Bird were, say, Jerry Colangelo, it'd be looking over its shoulder for angry dancing Chinese lions.


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