Hot August Nights sends chills

On Sunday, people driving west on Interstate 80 with destinations of Sunday services at St. Thomas Cathedral, First Methodist Church and Trinity Episcopal Church found themselves driving miles out of their way.

People trying to get to their mail from post office boxes at the 17th Street post office were turned away by officious men in blue polo shirts with temporary authority.

So were people trying to get to their homes in the Comstock Drive neighborhood.

People trying to reach the University of Nevada, Reno and its facilities, like the library (open all weekend), were told to find someplace to park and walk. They were not permitted to use university parking lots which are supposed to serve exactly that purpose. They could drive miles to find a back way into the campus, but it wouldn’t have helped much—two lots are accessible only from the road-blocked Virginia Street, one is fenced for construction, and one was reserved exclusively for Hot August Nights cars.

People driving north on Center Street intending to take the Sierra Street ramp onto Interstate 80 west were detoured completely around the entire UNR campus—to Ninth Street, Evans Avenue, McCarran Boulevard, then back down Sierra—3.1 miles to travel two blocks.

Perhaps wasting fuel is an appropriate symbol for a festival that involves old cars, but it’s lousy public policy.

Special events in this valley are becoming less special with each passing year. They exist mainly—not entirely, but mainly—for the economic benefit of the tourism industry. We understand their value, but they exist at the sufferance of the public. More and more, tourists are being accommodated in ways that damage the quality of life of residents. A few events, notably the balloon races, have won the affections of locals, but most—and Hot August Nights is at the top of the list—have long since worn out their welcome. Complaints are rampant at service clubs, church groups and other community events.

It’s time to put some restrictions on these events, which are rapidly becoming public nuisances. The use of public property by event organizers should be cut way, way back. The casinos have the wherewithal to hire private properties such as mall parking lots. Let them use it. (That does not mean moving events from the public’s streets into the public’s parks.)

And it is time for journalists to start meeting our responsibility to tell the public all of what is happening during these events, positive and negative. It takes something that can’t be ignored, like a New Year’s riot, to get local reporters to inform the public of the downside of special events. The journalism cover-up of drinking, violence and crime associated with special events must end, along with the blackout of local critics of these events.

The principal difference between most—not all, but most—television “news” stories about Hot August Nights and commercials for Hot August Nights seems to be that the commercials are paid.

A good model would be Carla Roccapriore’s Sunday Reno Gazette-Journal story. She managed to tell the reader what happened Saturday and what was scheduled Sunday with little lapse into TV-style hyperventilating boosterism. But reforming our ways must go beyond not overselling the good parts of these events. We need evenhanded coverage that tells both the good and the bad—and we need to give that growing group of critics of special events a fair chance to be heard along with all the casino publicists.