Ronald was out selling bottles of water on the Strip for two days before undercover county agents caught him last week on a walkway between Wynn Las Vegas and the Fashion Show mall.
“We’re out here looking for jobs, man,” he said, presenting his identification to a Clark County business license agent dressed in street clothes. “I’m broke. You won’t see me back out here again.”
Ronald, who said he was an unemployed forklift driver, refused to give his last name to a reporter but gave a brief interview.
He said he didn’t know what he was doing was illegal.
Three months ago, he probably wouldn’t have been cited.
Ronald is one of dozens of people who have been arrested, ticketed or warned for a new county ordinance aimed at clearing the Strip of people selling water, CDs and other items.
The new law – conducting business on a public right of way – took effect last month, and agents say it has helped them rid the state’s biggest tourist draw of unlicensed vendors.
“It enhanced our ability to conduct enforcement,” said one of the county’s business license agents, who asked that his full name not be used because he works undercover. “With this new code, I feel we’re making headway, and it is getting better.”
Since it took effect last month, agents have issued 10 citations and 72 warnings as of last week, not including 30 people arrested by agents and police in a recent sweep. Warnings were given instead of citations for the first few weeks of the new ordinance. They’re also given out if somebody doesn’t provide identification: It’s almost impossible to cite someone if you don’t know whom to cite.
Those statistics don’t include numbers from Las Vegas police, who have joined the effort to clean up the Strip and can make arrests for ordinance violations.
The county agent said Wednesday that his office has increased enforcement also. Plainclothes business license agents are now patrolling the Strip until 1 a.m. each day, he said.
The changes have been noticed by Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who two years ago denounced the vendors and filthy conditions after walking the Strip.
“There are nowhere near the number of vendors that I’ve seen in months past,” he said. “I think it’s made a difference. It’s made an impact.”
The ordinance has been one of the less-controversial ones adopted or expected to be adopted by commissioners, who are intent on improving pedestrians’ experience on the Strip.
They’ve outlawed pets and made handbillers responsible for cleaning up dropped fliers, and in the coming months they’re expected to ban “dangerous” sidewalk performers and replace news racks with county-managed ones.
Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, expects that county officials will face resistance to the littering ordinance. It targets handbillers responsible for any leaflets dropped in a 15-foot radius, even if someone else dropped it. It carries a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
“You can’t legally cite someone criminally for what someone else threw away,” Lichtenstein said.
“It will be challenged.”
But he doesn’t have an issue with targeting the vendors, which carries a fine and potential six-month jail stint.
It already has created headlines, however. Police arrested a Vietnam veteran on the Fourth of July for simultaneously passing out water bottles and asking for donations, prompting some to wonder whether officers had better things to do.
The undercover agent said most of the people he sees are trying to make a living and sometimes coordinate with other vendors to warn them, by cellphone or walkie-talkie, about law enforcement in the area.
“There are some of them that are absolutely communicating with each other,” he said.
Minutes after ticketing Ronald last week, agents stopped at a young male on an adjacent walkway, who was standing in front of a cooler and yelling, “Ice cold, $1!”
They went up to the person, showed him who they were, and he quickly zipped up the cooler and moved toward an elevator.
They let him go with a warning. He was 16.
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@review journal.com or 702-455-4519.