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Churches still frustrated by Life is Beautiful festival

Some come seeking a spiritual refuge, others to rejoice in worship.

A few are homeless, most are poor and working class. Many speak no English.

But it’s a safe bet that everyone who attends services at downtown’s diminutive Amistad Christiana Church comes to hear themselves think. That’s been impossible since 2013 during the behemoth Life is Beautiful music festival.

Amistad Christiana and other downtown churches are overrun by the massive crowds. Congregants of the church at 901 Stewart Ave. have been frustrated by the extensive perimeter fencing and abundant security personnel.

But after several meetings with festival officials, city staff and City Councilman Ricki Barlow, the churches have yet to receive credible assurances that their weekend services won’t again be drowned out when Life is Beautiful returns in September.

Amistad Christiana’s pastors Joelda May and Joel Menchaca took their struggle a step further last week by filing a lawsuit through attorney Allen Lichtenstein that seeks an injunction and damages for the festival’s past trespasses and the upcoming event. In addition to the festival, Mayor Carolyn Goodman and members of the city council are named as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges the festival has been allowed “to operate at a (special use) noise level that effectively prevents the Amistad Christiana Church from holding certain church services, thus violating Plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Nevada and United States Constitutions.”

It seeks to force the festival to silence two of its stages during church services “or in the alternative, to put in place, mature noise buffers to prevent the music from those stages from drowning out the services inside the church.” The lawsuit also seeks to compel the festival to put something in the collection plate for ruining previous services in 2013 and 2014.

The lawsuit alleges Life is Beautiful officials reneged on an agreement in 2014 that would have temporarily moved Amistad Christiana church services to Cashman Field. In June, a meeting between church and festival folks took place with Pastor May proposing a variety of solutions that would amicably resolve matters.

Life is Beautiful, the lawsuit alleges, offered a sop in the form of added security and to remind employees driving golf carts not to blare their music near the church.

“Every other suggestion was ignored or rejected,” the lawsuit states. “No alternative means to modify the impact to the church services from the music simultaneously playing on two of the ’€˜massive stages’ was proposed.”

This issue should have been resolved back in 2013 when Life is Beautiful first poured its promotion into the downtown corridor during the height of the Tony Hsieh worship. It was insensitive then, but perhaps festival organizers and city officials could have been forgiven for failing to fully appreciate the massive scale and success of the gathering. Life is Beautiful is definitely a moneymaker for its promoters.

Barlow said Monday he was unaware of the lawsuit — but wasn’t surprised by it. Although he said meetings that began back in February appeared to resolve at least a few matters, a “stalemate” resulted on some of the most important issues.

“My office has been involved in all of those meetings from Day 1,” Barlow said. “… I’ve exhausted all of my resources pertaining to this. I’ve done all that I can to try to work these matters out.”

In other words, unless something changes those churchgoers are in for another deafening experience.

The council is scheduled Wednesday to discuss and possibly act on Life is Beautiful’s special event license and land use permit. It’s item No. 42 on the agenda. It’s an ideal time to also discuss the ongoing controversy with the churches and get the festival’s representatives to come to an agreement.

It’s past time the city council stopped Life is Beautiful’s music long enough to make sure its citizens’ voices are heard, too.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Reach him at 702 383-0295, or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

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