Las Vegas

Las Vegas Cites Public Safety in Bid To Ban News Racks

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Credit: Shahar Hart / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The commission of Clark County, Nevada is expected to make a decision about a proposed ban on news racks on and around Las Vegas Boulevard. Although the government says the racks are a safety issue, people are fighting back, calling the proposal an affront to local businesses and First Amendment-protected rights.

There are an estimated 311 news racks along the Las Vegas Strip, as well as on cross streets, that could be eliminated. They feature everything from magazines and tourist information to advertisements for call girls. If the county commission has its way in a battle it has been waging for years, the businesses that operate the racks would have to remove them by Jan. 1.

Now, people are pushing back in defense of free speech, business freedom, and common sense.

The Las Vegas Sun quotes one rack owner, Kathryn Gentile, who speculated, "I don't think it's a secret that adult-oriented businesses and advertisements have always been disfavored. I believe this is simply another attempt to ban that and circumvent the First Amendment."

The ACLU is taking sides with Gentile. Allen Lichtenstein, the general counsel of the ACLU's Nevada branch said, "The biggest problem with the proposal is that it completely does away with a particular mode of communication, not just within a small area, but within a much wider area — the resort corridor. They don't really have a justification for getting rid of this First Amendment outlet." Lichtenstein also pointed out that eliminating news racks will not eliminate sidewalk congestion. Instead, the problem could be exacerbated by an influx of people handing out ads to replace the stationary bins.

Erik Pappa, a county spokesperson disagreed, insisting that the issue was over safety. "We did this pedestrian study… We had these guys look at pedestrian flow up and down the Strip, and they found a bunch of bottlenecks. They need to remove the obstructions." He assured, "It's strictly based on the need to improve traffic flow because of the safety issues involved," he said.

"This is my livelihood. I was going to hand this down to my kids. It's a family-owned business," explained another rack owner, Eddie Munoz. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he plans to file a lawsuit if the commission approves the ban.

One could also question if this is the best allocation of time and resources for the government to improve safety on the streets of Las Vegas. After all, the city has nearly double the national median violent crime rate, and experiences more than four times the number of crimes per mile as the national median.