Las Vegas plans fees for news racks

Las Vegas wants to follow Clark County's lead and create a new fee for news racks, something that some companies with the racks -- including the ubiquitous yellow stands filled with escort fliers -- object to.

An ordinance that received preliminary approval Tuesday would create a $50 annual fee per rack along with a $2 per rack administrative charge. The full Las Vegas City Council could vote on the change March 2.

Las Vegas has about 2,000 news racks, and the fee would generate an estimated $104,000. It would be used to offset the $122,000 annual cost to police the racks, make sure they are registered and in good condition, and verify that they are not blocking sidewalks.

That assumes that the number of racks would remain the same, said Joel Schwarz, an attorney representing Southwest Advertising, which has 350 adult advertisement racks in Las Vegas.

"Most of the permit holders are going to stop applying for permits," he said. "They're going to pull their racks."

Such a move would be fine with many people, because the racks aren't popular, said Councilman Ricki Barlow.

Schwarz countered that the distributors would simply switch to using handbillers, and people "would prefer (the racks) over handbillers."

The measure might impinge on First Amendment rights, Schwarz added.

"These publications are traditional free speech and expression. These sidewalks are a traditional public forum. You can only charge basically a nominal fee for what is a traditional public forum," he said. The publications already pay a $200 annual licensing fee per title to the city, he added.

Councilman Stavros Anthony said taxpayers are footing the bill for maintaining the racks.

"Everybody's paying for that," he said. "Why can't the industry pay for it? Why don't you step up and pay for it?"

Southwest Advertising President Kathy Crawford agreed.

"We absolutely have a burden and should pay something," she said, suggesting an annual fee of $10 to $25.

Clark County charges a $25 initial fee for news racks and a $65 annual permitting fee afterward. The county also has a $50 application fee for spots where news racks aren't already located.

The county racks haven't vanished, but those are on the Strip, while the city's racks are on downtown streets away from the Fremont Street Experience.

"The city locations and the county locations are different," Schwarz said.

If city rack owners opt to remove them rather than pay for a license, "there will still be unlicensed racks out there," he added. "They will still have the cost of enforcement. There's some number between zero and 50 dollars where it's of some benefit to everybody."