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April 25, 2015

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j. patrick coolican:

The weirdness of the Strip is what makes it cool — leave it be


Steve Marcus

Anthony Estrada, 7, of Overland Park, Kansas high fives a man dressed as television character Homer Simpson on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday July 24, 2011. At left are performers dressed as Super Mario Brothers.

Click to enlarge photo

J. Patrick Coolican

The Clark County Commission has seemed lately like the Committee of “Get Off My Lawn!” It recently banned pets on the Strip. And it’s thrown some big fines at homeowners for violating the so-called “party house" ordinance, which restricts people from using their properties as short-term rentals, which is supposed to save neighbors the nuisance of raucous parties in the neighborhoods.

Now the commission, upon recommendations from a “working group” of Strip casino types and county staff, will “clean up the Strip.”

After that, perhaps it will move on to eradicating lust and greed.

To be fair, Commissioner Steve Sisolak proposed the group after a spate of five homicides in less than two weeks last summer, and he can hardly be faulted for his concern.

And, of course, we should always make sure our most important commercial district is safe and as free of trash — meaning refuse — as possible given the circumstances. The never-ending stream of people and alcohol tends to make a lot of garbage, while sidewalks that are far too narrow in places lead to bunching of crowds that could conceivably be unsafe.

So the working group made a series of proposals, including more frequent emptying of trash cans, increasing sidewalk cleaning from three to four times per week, adding more police officers and establishing a night court to quickly adjudicate common Strip crimes (and serve as a real-life platform for a future sitcom/reality show?).

Some of these are bread-and-butter governing. I can’t believe we need a blue ribbon panel to tell us we shouldn’t have overflowing trash cans or sticky sidewalks. If government can’t do small things right, no one will ever trust it to do big things again.

Other proposals are more concerning, especially to civil libertarians who believe this is yet another attempt in the county’s long-standing and quixotic battle against the First Amendment. These include establishing a “time, place and manner” code to restrict some First Amendment activities; surveillance cameras; and ordinances to prevent people from performing or panhandling on pedestrian bridges.

You may despise certain practitioners of the First Amendment — including me — but that doesn’t give you the right to restrict us. I’m speaking, of course, of the loathsome handbillers, the people who press cards advertising “escorts” into the hands of passing tourists, who inevitably toss the cards on the sidewalk.

Click to enlarge photo

A handbiller passes out cards in May 2010 for an escort service on The Strip just north of Flamingo Road, outside the Flamingo.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the ACLU of Nevada, said recently on KNPR’s "State of Nevada" that he was distressed by the roster of the county’s working group and the tenor of the conversation.

“I’ve been litigating this since 1997, the attempt to control what is said and passed out on the Strip. And ... walking in there after all these years, all the litigation, all the money the county has spent losing this litigation, this particular group starts off saying, ‘How do we get rid of these people?’ ”

And now it’s not just the handbillers. It’s also street performers, including talented musicians and contortionists and less-talented people in superhero costumes.

Cracking down on unlicensed vendors, such as those selling bottles of water from coolers, is a safety issue, but I still find it depressing that crushing these plucky entrepreneurs is considered such a priority.

County Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager, also appearing on the same NPR show, worries about the safety of some of the street performing acts as well as crowds congregating on narrow sidewalks, causing people to step into the street to get by. Her concern, she says, is cleanliness and safety.

I think we can all live with that. We don’t want to scare off the bovine herds of tourists on whom we depend for economic survival.

The Clark County Commission should tread carefully, however. And not just to prevent yet another loss to the ACLU.

The Strip is a unique American streetscape, an incalculable asset because of how it is viewed by the world. It’s a symbol of American freedom, of liberation from dumb, arbitrary rules, of our God-given right to be idiots. That’s a big reason people come here — not for a Prada store or some star chef, but because they can do more or less what they want.

It’s one of the weirdest places in America. Let’s keep it that way.

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  1. Las Vegas is Unique! and that is what keeps tourists like myself returning time after time. It isn't Joel Robuchon or Le Cirque at Bellagio which keeps me coming back, it is the tapestry that is Las Vegas, the performers on the street accentuate the performers of the in house shows, the mix of tourists clamoring to rush up the strip, even the panhandlers that in their own way remind us of the woes of overdoing Las Vegas. I was amazed and shocked and nervous when I was urged by others in the party I was with on my first visit to LV to walk onto the strip with a beer in my hand. LV is unique, there are casino's across the U.S.A and Canada but the uniqueness of LV is what brings tourists back time after time.
    Go 51's Go!

  2. Totally agree with you, Mr. Coolican.

    I'll carry it even further though.

    First, it seems like the casinos, more so than the locals out here, are the ones clamoring about what is happening on the street. The tourists? Like you said, they're fine with the weird thing. It's Vegas. They come here to see controlled lunacy. I guess what I'm saying is if the casinos on the Strip are so damn worried about what happens in front streetside, then they have security that can do things. You don't need a ton of laws created that will only lead up to being mired in court as 1st Amendment violations, transferring costs to the taxpayers.

    The casino security can take care of things. I've actually seen them do it on the street in front of their casinos. Okay, I know. People will say they have no jurisdiction there. That's true. But when a security guard keeps getting in someone's face and asks them quit and leave all the time, they are eventually going to comply. Any good security guard can fix this. Because they're there. Police aren't there around the clock, nor should they be.

    So, the casinos are trying to shove off their problems on Clark County. And Clark County is in suck up mode and doing their bidding. When they clearly don't have to in order to fix the problem.

    Second, the approach to this is lop sided. They are addressing a symptom of the problem. People out on the Strip doing this are not doing it solely for the purpose of screwing with tourists. THEY'RE TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING! They are being innovative. In order to live and survive in Las Vegas.

    If the County Commissioners worked on trying to promote businesses and working on ways to create good paying jobs, I guarantee what's going on along the Strip will stop.

    But, no, the County Commissioners are stupid and are like a doctor addressing a broken leg by misdiagnosing it and handing the patient mouthwash for bad breath.

    I STILL say tourists will be fine. They know the score and can deal with it. Quit with the polite police crap, County Commissioners. And quit wasting our money on stupid surveys that tell you stuff you, or anyone with half a brain, already knows.

  3. Coolican - You're a certified nutcase. These weirdos are trashing up the Strip and are a nuisance. Many of these street "performers" are drug addicts, criminals, and up to no good. Instead of getting a real job, they're pan handling on the streets. I can't bring my friends down on the Strip to enjoy the Bellagio fountain show without being molested by these creeps...the women in our group have to hold on to their purses and worry about it getting snatched. It's a good think the guys in our group carry and aren't afraid to use it otherwise we wouldn't go down there. It's crazy and it needs to be stopped.

  4. I grow tired of your articles Coolican, being a reporter doesn't mean swimming against the tide daily...Same shtick on every column you write...

  5. Maybe what needs to be done is for the casinos to make walkways amongst their properties so that people DO NOT need the sidewalks for anything!

    I love how you can go from Mandalay to Luxor to Excalibur without touching concrete. Or how Paris and Ballys are connected, etc...

    Override Las Vegas Strip sidewalks! Abandon them!

  6. Corruption certainly screws up our priorities here in Las Vegas. Our County Commissioners and DA are concerned about pets on the strip and people trying to make a living, but show little to no concern for the safety of Las Vegas Strip buildings. How safe are the buildings/structures on the Las Vegas Strip? The Harmon Tower we know is bad, but what about the rest of City Center? I find it hard to believe that the Harmon Tower was the only structure at City Center that had issues considering the fact that the Clark County Building & Fire Departments have done such a poor job ensuring the safety of the buildings on the strip. How many inspections were done at Strip hotels after the walls were closed up? Kind of hard to do an inspection when you can't see what you are supposed to inspect! Superman must be employed by Clark County, with his x-ray vision he can see through the walls. Why did the bundles of rebar get lighter at City Center? Is it true that there are structural cracks in Caesars' new towers? Could it be true that the Cosmopolitan has issues similar to the Harmon Tower? (say it isn't so) What about Harrah's Entertainment Inc highly publicized and documented illegal remodels that spanned more than a decade, remodels that left every single room that they touched unsafe for the public to stay in because Harrah's knowingly & willfully compromised every single safety system in place to protect the public! Of course, no one at Clark County has been willing to address the massive asbestos exposure to, at a minimum, tens of thousands of construction workers, hotel employees and Hotel Guests, which took place during Harrah's illegal remodels! County & state officials and agencies did everything in their power to protect Harrah's from prosecution. Apparently, it is not a crime to knowingly & willfully expose the public to ASBESTOS or to provide "public fire safetly traps" as rooms in Clark County, Nevada. It is true: "What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas!"

  7. Sunday Afternoon there were Three Dollar Water Sellers, A Three Card Monty Game and a few Panhandlers just on the Bridge From Excalibur to NYNY. There is absolutely no reason why MGM could not extend their Monorail from the Excalibur on to NYNY and then on to connect with their Monorail at Monte Carlo for City Center/Bellagio. This would allow many tourists to totally avoid the Sidewalk, should they choose not to deal with any of this stuff.

    A Similar type of walking connection could be built from Planet Hollywood to Harrah's and connect right across the street to Caesars Mall.
    Many of these problems are issues of Poor Casino Design and even Weaker Politicians and their inability to provide proper zoning.

    Now the Casinos want a Problem Fixed that they really Create. Will our Politicians have the Courage to implement zoning or will they allow the Casinos to build on the last three feet of sidewalk?

  8. I wonder how much time in a given week Mr. Coolican spends just walking on the Strip? I'm guessing almost none, like most residents of Las Vegas. As a member of the "bovine herds of tourists" I can say that I spend a lot of time running the LVB gauntlet during my 4 trips a year, and I don't like it. At best it is a challenge to overcome the nuisance and at worst it is a threat to my safety.

    When I get rich and retire to Las Vegas, I want to exercise my 1st Amendment rights by wearing some kind of official looking uniform, standing next to these beggars and performers, use a megaphone and say "These people are professional beggars. They make around $500 per day. If you give them money you are extending this nuisance and bottleneck."

    Actually, I wonder why the casino companies don't just pay people to do that when any nuisance people set up shop in front of their properties?

  9. The handbillers are indeed a major problem, and the solution is very simple: legalize prostitution in Clark County and then license/regulate the advertising like any other business.

    Not only would legalizing the business enhance the "do anything you want" image of Las Vegas, but it would open up a new tax revenue stream as well.

  10. $500 a day? Why those are small businesses. Businesses that could pay taxes (excuse me, we are business friendly and do not use the T word) er, licenses.

  11. Geez, two columns in a row I agree with the Cool man. Something is definitely wrong!

  12. There goes Birdie with her "the ACLU supports human trafficking" nonsense. She forgets that she indirectly funds human trafficking. That is if she can ever come up with anything more than a guess that any of the women responding to calls for companionship are victims of human trafficking.

    The ACLU defends the 1st Amendment, and, like it or not, the 1st Amendment was written to protect the free speech rights of human traffickers. So anyone who supports the 1st Amendment are supporting human trafficking.

    Birdie asserts her 1st Amendment Rights to spread nonsense, the most fundamental way to support the 1st Amendment. By her own reasoning, she is supporting (and funding don't forget) human trafficking.

  13. Birdiedreamin needs to stop with the "hand billers support human trafficking" nonsense. The cards passed out are ads for escort agencies, most of which are scams meant for naive tourists and involve little prostitution. Most use bait and switch methods designed to get as much cash as possible from eager tourists usually without providing any real service in return. If Birdie believes that human trafficking is such a huge problem then perhaps he/she should do some actual research instead of placing blame on an easy target like the hand billers.

  14. By missd..."SELLING women is NOT First Amendment protection." No it is not. But the First Amendment was written to protect the free speech of those who did sell women. If you believe otherwise you have been poorly educated.

    The Bill of Rights was written to protect the rights of human traffickers.

  15. The Strip was way cooler 30 years ago these days when I come to Vegas I rent a car and stay off of the Strip. It's much safer off the Strip.