If an adult in Clark County wants to buy a Hustler magazine at a convenience store, he will find that the provocative cover photo is hidden from view to protect young people and those who are easily offended. However, that same adult, or his minor child, can find a newsrack outside the store displaying magazines with cover photos just as revealing. This is a situation that needs to be addressed, and I would like your help in changing our newsrack ordinances.
If you think I’m being overly prudish, stop by a newsrack and pick up one of these things for yourselves. I did, so I could give some examples for this article, but I had a hard time finding quotes that would give you an idea of what these leaflets are like without being obscene myself. Here are some titles: Barely Legal, Dream Girls Totally Nude Adult Entertainment, College Girls Need Tuition Money, Pussy Cat Magazine, etc. There are sections for outcall dancers of every sort, including transsexuals, the leather-and-whip crowd and photos of “barely legal” young people of both sexes who would appeal to pedophiles.
Gary Loberg of the Clark County Department of Public Works, which regulates newsracks, provided some interesting (and disturbing) information about this situation. Did you know that the only section of Clark County where newsracks are regulated and licensed is the zone designated “H-1” for resort hotels (in other words, the Strip), a small area around the Las Vegas Convention Center and designated resort areas in Laughlin and Primm? In these areas, there are more than 3,000 “permitted” spots, and they are regulated only so they don’t become a hazard to pedestrian traffic. Loberg estimates there are between 15,000 and 20,000 newsracks outside these areas, which are not regulated at all.
Did you know it would be perfectly legal for someone to put a newsrack full of smut on the sidewalk in front of your house? According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, newsracks offering free copies of “barely legal” ads for “barely legal” services are no different from those selling USA Today or the Reno Gazette Journal. County regulations must therefore be what Loberg calls, “content-neutral.” Newsracks offering adult-oriented materials are afforded First Amendment rights and can be put on any sidewalk, as long as they are not dispensing material that fits the narrow legal definition of pornography, and as long as they leave enough room for a wheelchair to pass by (federal ADA regulations).
Loberg said he receives complaints about these newsracks at least once a week, and they are usually from out-of-town visitors asking, “What kind of place is this? How can you allow this stuff on public streets?” Despite Las Vegas’ “anything goes” image, we have to draw the line somewhere. Do we want to attract middle-class families with children, young singles on vacation and retired people in RVs, or do we want to attract perverts and sexual predators?
Not to mention that those of us raising families here have to walk by these newsracks every day. Many of them are outside apartment complexes and convenience stores frequented by children. People who own these newsracks claim they are put there for the convenience of consenting adults who wish to pick up these materials. But who keeps kids away from them? The short answer is – nobody.
What can we do to get rid of this eye pollution? Here are some suggestions: You can download copies of the ordinances pertaining to newsracks (how far they need to be from the curb and from driveways, fire hydrants, etc.) at http://ordlink.com/codes/clarknv. Go to Chapter 16 (Roads and Highways) and look at 16.08 for newsrack ordinances and also 16.11, obstructing public sidewalks. If any of the newsracks in your neighborhood violate that law, even by 1/4 inch, report them to the County Public Works Department at 455-2764. The next time any brochures blow out of the newsrack, contact the Metropolitan Police Department at 229-3111 and they will notify the newsrack owner to clean up the mess or be cited for littering.
I am investigating what can be done to change the newsrack ordinances. These laws originate in the county commission, which will be hearing from me. There is already an ordinance in the works to narrow the definition of a newsrack and get rid of the concrete-filled buckets with temporary stands on them. That will be an improvement. The city of Palo Alto, Calif. passed an ordinance in 1996 forcing newsrack owners to put “blinders” on adult-themed newsracks, so only the masthead of the publication could be seen, not the photos. A similar ordinance would be helpful in keeping some of this explicit material away from kids’ view.
This is a serious issue, and it will not get better unless concerned citizens band together and decide we’ve had enough. We wouldn’t let children in our community put poison into their bodies – let’s not let them poison their minds, either. If you want to be part of this effort, please contact your county commissioner. The phone number of the Clark County Commission is 455-3500.