Friday, June 16, 2006

Local Questions (twofer Friday, Wow)

OK, no pictures, lots of words in this one.

I received an email from Tess with some locals questions. It took a while to answer, so I figured that I might as well post part of it for the rest of you.

1) Where do Vegas residents go when they want to have traditional Vegas type events, ie: stags, girls weekends, etc.

1. People that live here still take advantage of the tourist things, though we don't have to. When we want to party there are some of the best spots in the world right on the Strip. Of course we can pick any casino we want. The girls seem to like the guy shows - the Thunder from Down Under, or other male 'stripper' places. These are ‘have a few drinks and laugh at the hunks on stage’ type places where you can have fun. When guys go out they usually avoid the female strippers, for some reason that's more of a solitary experience than a group thing for guys. Guys would hit the sports bars or perhaps the crap tables at a locals casino.

Besides the big Strip and downtown casinos there are quite a few places scattered around town that cater more to local residents than the fly-in-for-a-few-day tourists. These places also have hotels, and that's where we put up guests that come to visit us. Unfortunately most of them are older, and usually have big bingo halls and gather more old people than pull in the young crowd. But there are some new ones - a new Station casino at Silverton Casino to the south, Red Rock on the west side, or the Green Valley Resort in Henderson on the east side are popular places, with rock concerts and lounges and other areas to do things besides gamble. (Green Valley was recently used for a TV series on goings-on inside of casinos)

2) Do Vegas residents visit the rest of Nevada? (ie people from Omaha tend to check out the rest of Nebraska, but people from NYC don't tend to check out the rest of NYstate even though i know that Albany is the capital).

2. There isn't much in the rest of Nevada. The only other big city is Reno, and that's more casinos like Vegas but smaller. The rest of the state is open area; mountains and deserts and sand dunes and parks. If you are into concerts or bars or casinos or fancy restaurants there is no place more swinging in the country than Vegas, so no reason to go out of town.

But locals do get out of town a lot. Motor homes, dune buggies and three wheel off road vehicles are very popular. There are quite a few people that take off on weekends in motor homes hauling the toy trailer going around the state to campgrounds and areas that are designed for that type of fun. Others have boats and hit the lake. In the winter there is skiing at Mt. Charleston (an hour drive away) and great trails at Lake Tahoe, or the Utah snow resorts. There are a lot of national parks within a day's drive - the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe . . .. If you are an outdoor person there are lots of places to go. Even within the area, for hikers and bikers and walkers there's Red Rock, Lake Mead, and a dozen other parks within an hour's drive. Los Angeles and the southern California beach areas are only a five hour drive.

I say 'only a five hour drive' as if that's normal. Well, in the Western US it is quite normal. Everyone has cars, and people do not hesitate to drive for five or six hours to a weekend getaway. Half the visitors to Vegas are here on the weekend, driving up from LA.

3) What are typical concerns for municipal politicians? environment? safety? tax dollars wisely spent? responsible development?

3. Local politicians? Typically it's 'how do I make the most money'. Right now about a quarter of locally elected officials are either under investigation, indictment, convicted or on trial for bribery, corruption, or similar charges. Vegas might have a reputation for corruption and the mob from the fifties, but it still seems to be a problem right now.

I know, not a very good answer, but reading the papers it feels like the truth. Good politicians are concentrating on police and schools. Nevada is having a very hard time in attracting and keeping teachers. Next school year the Las Vegas school district, the third largest in the country, will be over 1,000 teachers short. And lots of new schools are under construction, to accommodate the incoming population. The Las Vegas area has a growth rate of seven thousand people a month. My daughter teaches third grade, being a teacher here for over seven years now, so I get stories from her too.

The population is growing faster than new police hiring, so our ratio of officer to resident is becoming quite high. We just passed a special sales tax last year directed at new officer hiring. Areas of LV are having big problems with street gangs, there are shootings almost every week. Traffic laws are a joke - there are so few traffic enforcement officers that almost no one obeys speed limits or traffic lights. I try to drive the speed limit, which on most of the streets between home and work is 35mph, with two traffic lanes in each direction. I usually am the slowest car on the road - it seems that 50mph is the average speed on these streets. On bigger streets the limit is 45mph, with three or four lanes each direction. There is a grid layout, with major streets every mile, semi major between every half mile. The average speed on those streets is probably close to 60, with some guys flying by at 70. If a traffic light turns red there are usually two or three cars that are going too fast to stop and fly through, so if you are the first car at a red light you learn to count to five after it turns green, in order to watch the cross traffic fly by, before driving on. At times we read of traffic crackdowns in high accident areas, but these are publicized, so people know to go slow then. But as soon as the cops leave the speed goes up. I drive twelve miles to work on the surface streets, and go past accidents several times each week, and almost never see anyone getting a ticket.

'Controlled growth' is a supposed concern, but there really is no control. The federal government owns the majority of Nevada; I think the last figure I saw said 87% of the state is federal land. In order for the LV area to grow the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off land every year, as there are no large tracts of private land in the valley. These auctions usually open up several hundred (or thousand) acres of land a year, and prices for large tracts last year were close to a million dollars an acre for the raw land. The winning bidders then split up the parcels and sell big pieces to housing developers. They have to put in streets and utilities and grade down to individual lots. The area is growing in three corners - the northeast corner has a big air force base, which restricts that direction, but now there are some tracts past that further up I-15. These areas then need schools, and fire stations, and police stations, and all of the interfaces that a city has to provide. Developers usually set aside land for these things as part of the permit process, but do not build them. Since most of these areas are now beyond city limits it falls on Clark County to do the work, and county government is even slower. Major roads are owned by the state, so now we have the state division of highways responsible for widening the connecting roads, further slowing things down. So there is no control, but lots of complaints and public hearings, but houses still go in.

There are always complaints about taxes. Nevada does not have an income tax, so all monies have to come from property taxes, sales tax or other use taxes. The casinos have so much power that their tax rates have not increased in years, and it is rather low, which is why they are here. Our state legislature meets only every other year, most of their time is spent either figuring out how to raise more money or how to spend the overflow they got from raising taxes the last time. This is an off year, so our governor is trying to figure out what to do with a half billion dollar surplus; while the highway department is calling for an additional billion a year for road projects, schools are calling for more to increase teacher pay, police departments are looking for more to hire more cops. Teacher pay is covered by school districts, which may cover several city limits and county areas; police are by city; and road projects are a different state group. When the legislature meets next year they probably will have to figure out how to take in more money for the projects demanded.

Boy, that last section makes it sound like an unpleasant place to live, but in reality most of the rest of the US faces the same problems. I came from San Diego, and it all sounded the same there. Unfortunately the rural areas, and several older cities are suffering from job and population declines, which lead to different problems.

And I do like living here. I enjoy the heat, and even though we didn’t want the pool we do float around in it quite a lot. If we want to go out to eat there are great restaurants around town, and if we feel really rich we can hit fancy places on the Strip, some of them are three star or better. If we want to get out for a day we can drive to one of the big places, or just walk the strip and watch people and see changes in the casinos (we don’t gamble, no time wasted there). If we want music there is always a lounge with live entertainment, or big name acts are always coming through town. Every big resort on the Strip has a show (or two or three) so we can spend big bucks for fancy entertainment any time. If we have a few days we can go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon (which we have done) and wander in the trees, or go down to San Diego or over to San Francisco. It is a nice place to be, not a big city like Hong Kong or NYC, but there are a lot of things here.

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