Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | 2:19 p.m.
The Las Vegas Strip has become an obstacle course for tourists who must navigate around and through overflowing trash cans, pedestrian bottlenecks, panhandlers and handbillers. But county commissioners think recommendations by a committee largely made up of casino executives will clean it up.
The ideas include surveillance cameras, more police and ordinances regulating handbillers, adult-content newsracks and panhandlers.
“We don’t want...the Las Vegas Strip (to become) a ‘Nightmare on Las Vegas Boulevard,’” Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said. “We have to do something because the Strip is getting way out of control.”
Weekly voted with other commissioners to accept a report from the Strip Corridor Working Group, which spent six months studying the issue. Next, county staff will develop code amendments, public hearings will be set and commissioners will discuss where to find money for some of the changes.
“We all have concerns about money” coming from county taxpayers, Commissioner Tom Collins said.
Virginia Valentine, former county manager and now president of the Nevada Resort Association, said she and the commissioners get letters from people saying they will never come back to Las Vegas because of a bad experience on the Strip.
Noting that every state except one has some sort of legalized gambling, Valentine said tourists “come here to see that Las Vegas Strip. Nothing is worse than to spend a lot of money and have a horrible experience.”
County Manager Don Burnette, who served on the working group, briefly outlined some of the recommendations.
Before he began, he said the purpose of the group was not to attack the so-called “smut peddlers” or “porn slappers” on the Strip. The county has a long history of losing legal arguments over the First Amendment rights of adult-oriented businesses, and Burnette was careful to note that those businesses are not being singled out.
“People refer to them as smut peddlers, but we’re obviously talking about a much broader issue that...(includes) all kinds of handbillers on the Strip,” Burnette said, noting that club operators also hire people to hand out ads.
With photos taken in the last week, Burnette showed examples of people doing unlicensed business on the sidewalks.
They were selling water, beer, toys, sun glasses, compact discs and art. “These are just some of the examples,” Burnette said, adding that the numbers have increased significantly in the last year.
Tourists aren’t always happy, either, to have to walk around someone with three boa constrictors dangling around his neck. Capt. Todd Fasulo of the Metro Police Convention Area Command, which has 140 officers patrolling the Strip, said snakes and leashed iguanas are frequent on the Strip.
Then there’s the tumbling act in front of Bally’s, which has a large sidewalk area. While Fasulo said the act is good, it collects such a large audience that people have to walk into the road to get around the crowd.
In addition, the tumblers invite “kids to senior citizens” to participate, doing tumbling acts over the top of them. No one has been hurt, Fasulo said, but it’s a potential problem.
One night, Fasulo said, he followed an extension cord in the cracks between sidewalk sections. It led to a gas generator powering amplifiers and guitars being played by a group that had set up a makeshift stage near Harmon Avenue.
“The Strip is a very different place than it was in 1994,” Burnette said, noting that year was the last time a comprehensive pedestrian study of the Strip has been completed. In another agenda item, commissioners unanimously approved spending $581,000 for a new pedestrian study.
The Strip Corridor Working Group’s list of 32 recommendations touched on some key problems and potential solutions. Some of the recommendations:
• Establishing a “time, place and manner” code to restrict some First Amendment activities.
• Surveillance cameras and more police. Surveillance cameras could be relatively inexpensive, but more police would be costly.
• For aesthetic reasons, make all news racks for adult-oriented publications identical. The county has counted 579 of newsracks at 100 locations on the Strip. Different businesses use many different styles. Trash cans should also be placed by the racks.
• The casinos and county should empty trash cans more often.
• Increase sidewalk cleaning from three to four times a week, plus after special events.
• Pedestrian bridges, where the homeless and panhandlers often station themselves to ask for money, would be targeted with an ordinance to ban “stopping or standing,” while clarifying that bridges “are for the prompt and safe movement of pedestrians.” The ordinance would have to be approved by the County Commission.
• To address unlicensed vendors, the working group recommended adoption of an ordinance “that clearly states it is unlawful to engage in commercial activity in the public right-of-way.” It also suggests using civil penalties — tickets and fines — instead of the current method of criminal prosecution for business license violations.
• Because a lot of crime and problems happen at night, the group suggested establishing a night court to “expedite the adjudication of offenders in a prompt and consistent manner.”