When Gavin Santillan performs on the Strip, there’s one place in particular with acoustics that allow her voice to shine amid the din of tourists, casinos, and cars: the pedestrian bridges.
But Santillan and her fellow street performers found themselves at the Clark County Government Center on Tuesday, after hearing that the county Board of Commissioners was proposing an ordinance to block people from stopping on those same bridges. Under the ordinance, violations would be classified as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000.
“Stopping on the pedestrian bridges creates conditions that can foment disorder which, in turn, can lead to crime and serious safety issues,” the proposed ordinance reads.
The board ultimately postponed discussion of the ordinance, a day after the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and other local advocacy groups sent a letter to commissioners calling the ordinance “a dangerous intrusion on civil liberties.”
“This proposal is so overbroad that it will apply to anyone who stops for any reason, resulting in individuals who merely stop on a publicly funded pedestrian bridge ending up with a criminal record,” the letter read.
A similar proposal was introduced, and subsequently postponed, last summer.
“It violates our First Amendment for sure. We’re known as the number one entertainment capital. People come here to be entertained,” Santillan, the street performer, said of the ordinance. “I feel like taking that away from the people who come here to be entertained as well is also a violation.”
Santillan started performing full-time on the Strip earlier this year to take a chance on herself and pursue a career as an artist. She makes anywhere from $100-$300 a day on average, but in the cold winter months, performing at night can be “a bit devastating” financially, and she’s since had to find other work taking souvenir photos at a popular Strip restaurant to get by.
If the ordinance passed, Santillan and other performers would need to seek other employment and opportunities to perform, like perhaps on Fremont Street.
Commission Chairman Jim Gibson on Tuesday said the county will discuss the issue at its first meeting of the new year on Jan. 2. In a statement, spokesperson Erik Pappa said the county continues to work through the language of the ordinance.
Who is impacted?
The pedestrian bridges serve as walkways for visitors and residents to travel between casinos above Las Vegas Boulevard. The ordinance would encompass bridges in the county’s Resort Corridor, which stretches from Desert Inn to Russell Road, and connects casinos like Treasure Island, the Venetian, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, the Cosmopolitan and MGM Grand.
According to the ordinance, calls for law enforcement services on the Las Vegas Strip increased 29% from 2018 to 2022, while calls for service for disorderly conduct increased 23% in that same period.
The county cited a disproportionate number of calls for disorderly conduct on the pedestrian bridges, despite the bridges making up a small percentage of public sidewalks for people to walk on.
Last month, amid the inaugural Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix, police and security worked to ensure that onlookers weren’t loitering on the bridges and along Las Vegas Boulevard to get a glimpse of the race. Regardless, huge crowds of people gathered on some of the pedestrian bridges throughout the night.
The county said the ordinance would allow it to accomplish its “important objective of reducing the incidence and risk of crime and serious safety issues on pedestrian bridges and allows pedestrians to freely and safely get to their desired location.”
But in the letter sent Monday, advocacy groups said the proposal was another example of a “manufactured criminal penalty” with no data to justify it.
“Selective prosecution remains likely if this proposal is passed,” they wrote. “The criminalization of stopping on a bridge is egregious and will be challenged if approved.”
Pappa, the county spokesperson, said the county had no comment on the letter, but claimed it didn’t have any impact on the decision to continue working on the ordinance language.
A ‘bridge to success’
Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said the nature of the selective enforcement of the ordinance violates the First Amendment.
Haseebullah cautioned Tuesday that if the ACLU is forced to challenge the ordinance in court, it would also be willing to challenge the decision to shut down public sidewalks to build grandstands during the F1 race.
“Everything’s on the table,” he said.
Torin Frost, who is from Seattle but has been performing in Vegas for several years as a freestyle rapper, said he likely won’t return to Vegas as often if the bridges are shut down.
Performing in traditional venues is difficult in Sin City because of the nature of booking shows in casinos and the type of musical acts they typically look for to cater to tourists, like cover bands, he said.
“It’s always the goal to perform in Vegas, but you gotta start somewhere,” Frost said. “You start on the bridges. This is the bridge to success.”
Lorraine Longhi is a reporter for The Nevadan. Reach her at [email protected].
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