Unheralded, City Council does its job

Members of our several local elected bodies are more likely to be criticized than praised in these pages. That’s not because editors and letter-writers are naturally grumpy. Well, at least that’s not the only reason.

Some constituents are noisier than others. So ordinances get crafted to ban this or that activity that’s brought a complaint. Over time, they pile up. Far too seldom does anyone ask “Is there anything left that we’re not going to ban?”

Take the action of the Las Vegas City Council on Dec. 5, contemplating an ordinance designed to replace the existing Chapter 13.36 of the municipal code, covering the use of city parks, with something more comprehensive.

The first draft, as introduced by Councilman Steve Ross, sure was comprehensive, all right.

The oversight of the city’s professional staff by our elected council members is imperfect at best. Plenty of “recommended uniform codes” get adopted as part of a “consent agenda,” which is a polite way of saying few elected officials who vote on such measures have really read that big pile of stuff in front of them, let alone solicited detailed input from those who may later be driven out of business by those rules.

That’s how the city came to adopt a set of “green” energy standards that make it increasingly financially difficult to renovate and open a new business in an unoccupied downtown cinder block building, for instance – no matter how much square footage the owner sacrifices to wedge in additional layers of insulation.

But if you want some idea of what life in the city would be like if all the rules were made by the professional staff, it might be instructive to compare the draft of Bill No. 2012-51 that was presented by city staff back in November, to the version finally enacted on Dec. 5.

The main element to have drawn attention so far was the question of allowing guns in the parks. (See our Dec. 12 editorial in this space.) As enacted, the ordinance allows those with concealed carry permits to enter our parks armed for the self-defense of themselves and others. (Obviously, drawing or firing a weapon without compelling reason is another matter.)

While even that limitation is open for debate (given that the right to keep and bear arms may not be infringed, and that state law clearly disallows more stringent local bans), it’s better than the original proposal, which was to maintain a complete ban on self-defense weapons by all law-abiding citizens, which would have left only two groups armed – the police and the thugs, who rarely heed municipal ordinances, anyway.

The original draft ordinance banned smoking in the parks, despite the fact the only complaints received of late refer to the profusion of cigarette butts, a problem the City Council already addressed, a few months back, with the provision of ash trays at park entrances.

Yes, smoking is unhealthy. But so are fatty foods. Meantime, parks are by nature outdoors, and smokers pay taxes, too.

After Council members raised questions – Councilman Bob Beers allowed as how he himself had once smoked a cigar in a city park – the “smoking ban” was dialed back to areas within 50 feet of sports fields or bleachers.

The original draft ordinance proposed a ban on model boats. Council members changed that to allow model boats in areas designated for such activities.

A ban on “camping or lodging” in the parks remains. While it’s to be hoped no citizen will be rousted for dozing off on his or her picnic blanket, a ban on establishing tent cities on the softball diamonds would appear to make some sense.

In fact, while it would be nice if the only rule required for city parks is that “everyone act sensibly,” it’s not hard to imagine how far a few troublemakers could stretch things if the city didn’t ban commercial activities, driving around on the grass, or even the random launching of golf balls.

The rules in city parks may still be a tad too restrictive. Those determined to misbehave can never be controlled by written edicts, anyway.

But the point is that the City Council spent some hours dialing back a proposed ordinance designed more for the convenience of law enforcement than in the interest of leaving residents at liberty to sensibly use and enjoy their own tax-funded parks.

Just the way they’re supposed to.

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