Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Archive for the ‘Recent articles published’ Category

Pink paper makes a stark reminder

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When I saw the paper deliveryman making a tardy 7:30 a.m. round on my street last Friday, Sept. 30, I wondered if it had anything to do with that day’s issue of the Las Vegas Review Journal being pink. I imagined the scene in the printing department – someone in pre-press gritting his teeth and cursing management for their bright ideas.

Real or imagined printing drama aside, it was a worthy endeavor. The black-ink-on-pink-paper edition was designed to call attention to National Breast Cancer Awareness month, which started the following day, Oct. 1. RJ owner Stephens Media donated proceeds from street sales of the paper to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Although well-known, the pervasiveness of breast cancer still surprises me. Two of my aunts have had it, and yet the steady stream of e-mails I got over the weekend thanking me for my story in the special pink RJ took me by surprise. I was reminded that this disease’s power to ravage bodies and lives is such that it has left little of our society untouched.

This month invites everyone to do something, no matter how small. Women can learn to check their own bodies or make appointments for mammograms. Men can make donations to research organization or sign up to run in next spring’s Race for the Cure. Kids can get community service points for school by volunteering with local organizations like the Janet Sue Mason Foundation.

If everyone whose life has been touched by breast cancer does a little, it gets us all closer to the day when we won’t need a month, or a pink paper, as a reminder anymore.

3-Feet law has teeth, but are they sharp enough?

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Up against deadline, an editor from Vegas Seven e-mailed me early last week in a panic. He was finalizing Room to Roll, my story in the Aug. 11 issue, and wanted to know what repercussions, if any, breakers of the new 3-feet law would face. (See the story for more about the law.)

It wasn’t that I hadn’t asked prior to submitting the story; it was that nobody seemed to know. The sources I talked to (including Ryan Pretner’s wife, who’s an attorney, and Senator David Parks, who wrote the bill) only said that it would be up to a judge to decide.

That’s true – but there’s more.

As luck would have it, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department‘s public information office, which hadn’t returned my calls while I was reporting on the story, put me through to someone right away when I called to get the Vegas Seven editor’s question answered on deadline.

PIO Jay Rivera looked it up and told me that violating the traffic law that encompasses the new 3-feet provision is a misdemeanor “with a penalty not to exceed $1,000, six months in jail or 120 hours of community service.”

Heartening as it was to get an answer (although it still didn’t make it in before deadline), it was disheartening to see a penalty that seemed light relative to the harm that can be caused when a car hits a cyclist.

To be sure, not all the collisions in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics I gave in the story are the fault of the motorists, but regardless who’s at fault, the cyclist is more likely to end up hurt – sometimes badly, as in Pretner’s case. If the driver is at fault and he, say, paralyzes someone, burdens him with millions of dollars in medical bills and a life of in-home care, takes away his ability to work… the maximum penalty the driver can receive is $1,000, six months in jail or 120 hours of community service? The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Hopefully, there is the possibility of escalating the charges based on damage done, and of course there is always the civil litigation option.

In any case, the 3-feet law is a good first step to making motorists more aware of their obligation to safely avoid cyclists. The risk of having to shell out $1,000 for a ticket might curb some intentionally aggressive behavior from drivers toward cyclists. But it’s unlikely the end of the fight for bicycles’ fair share of the road.

There is an Outside to Las Vegas

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Hooray for summer! Kids sleep late, live on cereal, play video games in their pajamas all day… and make their parents scream, “Why don’t you go outside and play, like I did when I was a kid?” Kids complain there’s nothing to do; parents complain they don’t know how to get their kids outdoors.

You can kiss all that goodbye now. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations banded together on a massive team project to help families get outdoors, as I learned in reporting this story for Boulevards Las Vegas magazine.

Under the umbrella of the Nevada Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, some 40 different groups worked to build  a portal to local recreational opportunities for kids. Although the project’s public funding will soon expire, Outside Las Vegas has vowed to continue spearheading the collaboration.

The website contains regularly updated information on things to do around the state; for instance, this weekend’s free fishing day at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Boulder City and Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, put on by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the City of Las Vegas, respectively.

So, parents and kids: No excuses. Step away from the game controller, make a couple mouse clicks and find what you’re going to do this weekend – outside.

Which CG will it be?

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Las Vegas City Hall in downtown Las Vegas

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I predict the next mayor of Las Vegas will be a blond female between the ages of 40 and 80 with the initials CG. She will have extensive experience in education, upon which she has based promises to improve education in the city during her term – promises that will go largely unfilled, due to the fact the cash-strapped county and state have jurisdiction in this area. She will, as she has put it, “continue the current mayor’s development of Downtown” – much to the chagrin of Summerlin, which, despite not really needing it, would also love for the city to offer companies like Zappos millions of dollars in incentives to move to its  neighborhoods. Beyond that, I can only say for certain that the next mayor will become best buddies with Las Vegas City Manager Elizabeth “Betsy” Fretwell, who actually does all the hard work (and does a bang-up job of it, according to everyone I asked).

Any further predictions will depend on Las Vegans. Do we prefer the status quo, or are we in the mood for a changing of the guard?

That I can’t predict. To read what I know for sure about the next mayor’s job, check out my article in this week’s Las Vegas City Life.

Written by Heidi Kyser

June 2, 2011 at 9:26 am

Who’s Your Best Friend?

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Cat gassed down/masked down with anesthesia fo...

Image via Wikipedia

A flyer in the lobby of Warm Springs Animal Hospital, where I took my dog Aja to see her vet this morning, reminded me of the recent feature I wrote on Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for Desert Companion.

The flyer wasn’t about Best Friends, though. It was about The Animal Foundation, which was also mentioned in my story. I recalled the 2007 disease outbreak at Lied Animal Shelter, which the foundation operates, as part of the backdrop against which Best Friends began reducing its mobile adoptions from its Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, to Las Vegas. I also cited Clark County Animal Control statistics on animals impounded and euthanized at Lied as evidence that Best Friends’ help is clearly needed in our area.

The flyer I picked up this morning was a stark reminder of how dire the pet overpopulation problem in the Las Vegas Valley has become. The flyer gives the following data (which is not sourced, but presumably comes from The Animal Foundation itself):

  • The foundation receives 50,000-plus animals each year.
  • In 2009, it took in 2,000 more dogs and cats than Animal Care and Control of New York City.
  • It takes in 136 animals daily, on average.
  • Only 13 percent of animals placed in Las Vegas homes come from shelters or rescues; 9 percent come from the foundation.
  • The foundation performs 8,000 spay or neuter procedures annually.

According to the flyer, the number of spay and neuter operations will rise by 4,000 annually starting this year, due to the opening of a new public spay and neuter clinic.

Although the animal welfare world is divided on the best cure for pet overpopulation, at least one person I interviewed for the story thinks spay and neuter laws are the answer. Holly Stoberski, who was on Clark County’s Animal Advisory Committee through 2010 and is on the board of local Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, told me that she believes ordinances such as Las Vegas’ Code 7.14, adopted in 2009, will help reduce the number of unwanted pets in the valley.

As with so many well-intentioned laws and services, the success of 7.14 and Lied’s clinic will depend on enforcement and marketing, respectively. If my neighborhood is any indication of citywide norms, Las Vegans think it’s perfectly acceptable to let their unaltered dogs roam the streets with no identification. Placing flyers in veterinary clinics is preaching to the choir; let’s hope The Animal Foundation is doing much more to get its message to those who are filling its intake rooms with 136 animals per day.

Written by Heidi Kyser

May 23, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Homeowners vs. neighborhoods

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I discovered something curious while working on The little ‘hood that could (Desert Companion, March 2011): the vexed distinction between neighborhood associations and homeowners associations. It wasn’t central to the point of the story – that any neighborhood can benefit from banding together if it’s willing to put in the effort required – yet, erroneous confusion between the two different types of organization may prevent some people from getting in on the action.

The distinction is alluded to in the story, when City of Las Vegas neighborhood planner Yorgo Kagafas says, “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I don’t want my neighbors telling me what color to paint my house,’ but that’s not what neighborhood associations do. They don’t have the power to make rules, only to enforce what the city adopts.”

Who does tell you what color to paint your house? Homeowners associations.

While the two types of group manifest in myriad forms, depending on the circumstances in each case, there are some common, general differences between homeowners and neighborhood associations: Homeowners associations are usually mandatory, dues-gathering groups of residents in a designated area that have the authority to impose and enforce rules related to design and maintenance of that area; neighborhood associations are usually voluntary groups, open to residents in a designated area, that can only enforce (or request enforcement of) public laws governing that area.

So, a homeowners association will collect dues that help pay gardeners who trim your hedges to a mandated height. A neighborhood association will organize a crime watch and call law enforcement to report suspicious activity.

Another way of looking at it would be to say that homeowners associations are profit-oriented, while neighborhood associations are community-oriented. The former focuses on property values in order to protect the owners’ investment. The latter focuses on quality of life; property values are one of its indicators, along with crime rates, owner-occupancy and anything else residents deem important.

People who have a knee-jerk reaction against neighborhood associations should consider this distinction. Although your neighborhood association may take some action you disagree with, such as seeking historical status, it can’t make or enforce any rules that aren’t already on the books. It’s also an open forum, where you are free to express your opinion, providing you’re a resident.

And that’s the democratic process at work, isn’t it?

It’s the climate, stupid

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Something from my reporting on It’s Getting Hot In Here: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World (Desert Companion, Feb. 2011) kept nagging at me after the story was done.

I had to ask Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, how she would respond to those who don’t believe in climate change or its human-based causes to begin with – considering the report treats them as a given.

I felt stupid, maybe a hint of what a journalist would feel like asking the president of the Anti-Defamation League how he would respond to those who don’t believe in the Holocaust.

Her initial response was something like gasp-meets-laugh. Then, with a sigh, she launched into her I’m-sure-oft-repeated summary of the science on climate change. I pictured a thought bubble above her head reading, “Really, I have to go through this again? REALLY???” – undoubtedly from my own bias more than her attitude.

Asking the question at all wasn’t just an attempt at balanced reporting, but also a result of the immediate culture in which I live. Nevada residents regularly comment on environmental stories in the local press with wingnut talking points about climate change science. (Here‘s a recent example from the Las Vegas Sun‘s letters to the editor.) I have to take into account the beliefs of all my readers, regardless of my own convictions.

The really interesting part, though, came when Huta discussed the coalition’s Ten Things You Can Do To Help Imperiled Wildlife Survive Climate Change. She translated these 10 things into a local lexicon that transcends political and religious beliefs, focusing on fire prevention, water conservation and dust reduction as ways to preserve our desert landscapes.

Now that is something outdoorsy Nevadans can relate to, regardless of their stance on climate change. Whether campers and rock climbers, or hunters and ranchers, the people I’ve met and interviewed over the years who respect and rely on nature understand the interdependency of an ecosystem’s various elements (not including ATVers; I don’t know any of them). No reasonable individual wants to jeopardize the big picture for the sake of one activity or revenue stream.

If we start from that common ground, maybe we can agree on what we need to do to prevent further damage – even if we can’t agree on what caused it, god, man or Mother Nature.

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