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Commission decides against moving on Strip news rack ban

Updated Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 | 10 p.m.

The Clark County Commission has put off a ban on news racks along the Strip and instead will work with owners of the racks to come up with a compromise that limits obstructions for pedestrians.

The issue: Commissioners considered an ordinance that would have banned all news racks along Las Vegas Boulevard from Russell Road to Sahara Avenue.

The vote: No action was taken on the item.

What it means: News rack owners will be able to keep their boxes on the Strip for at least the next few months and potentially longer.

The ban, which would have taken effect Jan. 1 and affected several hundred news racks, was intended to help reduce obstructions that contribute to pedestrian congestion along the sidewalk.

The county plans to spend about $12 million to improve sidewalks and remove obstructions like fire hydrants, utility boxes and traffic signs. Construction on the first phase of those improvements are expected to begin in January or February of next year and will be paid for using room taxes.

Owners of the news racks, which carry everything from strip club advertisements to magazines, and the publishers they distribute worried the proposed ban was too broad and would put them out of business.

The strongest opposition came from members of the city’s Italian-American community, several of whom spoke out in support of the La Voce community newspaper.

Dominic Gentile, publisher of the monthly newspaper, said his news rack-distributed publication gets about 60 percent of its 50,000 monthly readers from tourists on the Strip. A ban would mean a loss of readers, a loss of advertisers, and eventually force La Voce out of business, he said.

“It was the death penalty. If they would have passed this we would have been out of business short of litigation, which a paper like La Voce doesn’t have that kind of money,” he said after the hearing.

Gentile and other opponents of the ban acknowledged that there are places along Strip sidewalks where congestion is a problem. But they argued there are plenty of other places along the Strip where the sidewalk is wide enough to accommodate news racks.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, warned commissioners the outright ban would expose the county to a First Amendment challenge. He suggested they instead look for a way to balance free speech and pedestrian safety.

Rather than risk a legal challenge by passing the outright ban, the commission decided to delay a decision indefinitely. In the meantime, a working group involving county staff, news rack owners and other interested parties will be formed to look at potential compromises that would allow news racks to remain while also addressing congestion issues.

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