A proposal to curb underage drinking downtown by enforcing stricter curfews throughout central Las Vegas is being questioned for its potential to create more problems than it solves.
The proposal by Mayor Carolyn Goodman would create a zone in the city with a 9 p.m. weekend curfew for people under age 18, which would be stricter than the existing, citywide midnight weekend curfew.
It’s part of a broader effort to reduce underage drinking in and around the Fremont Street bar district, which has swelled with crowds on recent weekends, prompting calls for more city regulations.
But critics say the proposed ordinance is too broad because it takes in neighborhoods around the downtown area that include many low-income and minority residents while imposing no new restrictions on people in more affluent areas outside the urban core.
“You could even call it a new ‘stop-and-frisk,’ ” said Laura Martin, communications director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, likening the proposal to a controversial program in New York City.
That policy, enacted with support from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been criticized for resulting in harassment of black and Hispanic residents by police.
Martin said the version of the curfew proposed by Goodman, which covers an area between U.S. Highway 95, Sahara Avenue, Eastern Avenue and Interstate 15, where more than 60 percent of residents are Hispanic and more than 20 percent live below the poverty line, could have similar results.
“It is what some would call attacks on poor people,” Martin said. “It is an unnecessary means of harassment.”
Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said if the ordinance is enacted as written, it could make it difficult for people to legally get around the city because it includes major thoroughfares, including freeways.
Lichtenstein also said that if enacted as written, the ordinance would make it illegal in one part of town for a 17-year-old to return home from a friend’s house after 9 p.m. while the same activity would be legal in other parts of town.
“Is there a double standard? Absolutely,” Lichtenstein said.
An existing citywide curfew is enforced from midnight to 5 a.m. on weekends and 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weeknights and would remain in place outside the proposed downtown area zone.
CURFEW PROPOSAL DEFENDED
“All we are doing is changing the time in this particular area,” City Attorney Brad Jerbic said of the proposal.
The proposal is on the agenda to be introduced at the Wednesday council meeting and could be voted on as early as Sept. 18.
Goodman defended the proposal as an attempt to reduce underage drinking in and around downtown areas with adult-oriented businesses.
She said the final version might be narrower than the original.
“Due to the explosive investment and renewed interest in downtown, it is important for the boundaries of the curfew to include the various areas where young people under 18 have shown an interest in congregating,” Goodman said in a statement. “As City Attorney Brad Jerbic has indicated, the proposed boundaries are intentionally broad for this reason, but can be adjusted as we finalize the ordinance.”
Councilman Bob Coffin, who represents the area affected, agreed the original boundaries are too broad and “will be changed” in time for a final version. He is on the city Recommending Committee, which will get a chance to review the proposal and suggest changes, including changes to the boundaries in response to input from the community.
“I expect there will be adjustments to it,” Jerbic said.
THE DOWNTOWN PROBLEM
The ordinance was proposed as a way to beat back a scourge of underage drinking some say plagues the downtown area, particularly in and around Fremont Street.
In recent months, business owners, police and city officials say the area has been the site of drunken, unruly crowds drinking booze on the sidewalk outside bars and nightclubs the city hoped would revive a once-downtrodden area.
Underage people are said to be taking advantage of the widespread, unregulated boozing to score alcohol for themselves.
“Kids are coming out there with cars, and they open the trunk and it is a full-blown bar,” said Terry Murphy, president of the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance, which represents businesses.
The curfew under the proposed ordinance would be similar to one in Clark County code that covers the Strip.
Exceptions in the proposed city ordinance include underage people traveling to or from work, or if the underage person is returning from a “place of public entertaining, such as a movie, play or sporting event.” It also makes an exception for school, social or religious activity or an “emergency errand.”
The workplace exception would require the underage person to provide police a statement from his or her employer verifying the hours and location of the job.
Violators of the ordinance could be fined $300, and police could take underage people out after curfew to a county juvenile detention facility, although they could choose to simply issue a citation and release the person immediately or to a parent or legal guardian. It also would retain from existing law the option to cite parents for allowing youngsters to violate the curfew.
Cameron Catton, youth services manager at The Center, an organization in the proposed curfew zone that provides services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said if the ordinance were enacted, it could interfere with programs that help kids.
Catton said the center programming that goes beyond the proposed curfew hour includes things such as social issue discussions and art activities.
The Center, which is open until 10 p.m. on Fridays, is also a place where homeless people can find snacks, air conditioning and a clean, safe environment.
Catton said exemptions in the proposal for kids leaving sponsored events aren’t enough because many who use the center already feel marginalized by the community and are fearful of police and authority figures, a problem that could be exacerbated by new reasons for people to be suspicious of kids.
“This is just going to create additional pressure on top of what already exists,” Catton said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285 .