Losing Lawson

Mike Lawson has been informed by Commissioner Bob Lucey that Lucey will not re-appoint him for another term on the Washoe Planning Commission for District 2.  Lawson’s term ends at the end of June 2019.  Lawson was originally appointed in May of 2017 to fill the vacancy left by Tom Daley.

Lawson’s departure represents a blow to advocates of responsible development.  He spent a career in traffic planning; most of it with NDOT.  He brings expertise and perspective to the planning commission on a topic of great importance to development planning.  While personable and respectful, Lawson brings character and healthy skepticism to his role.  He makes the time to understand development plans in detail and has no hesitation to ask the tough questions and to challenge developers’ claims.  He quickly grasped the bias shown by the Washoe Planning Department to support the developers and treats their assertions with the same skepticism.  He has changed the way the planning commission approaches its work.  Recent denials of destructive development plans have been unanimous.  The area plans (master plans) are being interpreted literally and applied consistently.  Hopefully, his influence on the planning commission will last, and the commissioners will review new development plans critically.

His dismissal is no surprise.  His predecessor, Tom Daly, had been removed from the planning commission following his public criticism of the terrible Colina Rosa (aka Symphony Ranch) development.  The Board of Commissioners wants to still voices that represent the residents, homeowners, and taxpayers.  They have proven consistent supporters of the developers and special interests.  This was seen last year when the Board of Commissioners discussed ways to limit the role of the planning commission as well as the role of the Citizens Advisory Boards (LINK).  The Board of Commissioners is increasingly isolated in its obsequious support of the developers.

We must not despair.

  • Lawson has influenced the way the planning commission works.  This is likely to last.
  • Lawson will continue to advocate against destructive development.  The “gloves will be off” once he is out of office.  He will no longer be bound by official decorum.
  • Lawson has made important personal contacts that will augment his influence.
  • Lawson has influenced the community’s perception of what good development should look like and what destructive development must be avoided.
  • Lawson will be more available to work with residents fighting destructive development when he no longer needs to consider limitations imposed by his official role.

Lawson has been drawn to public service, and this has been evident by his work on the planning commission (Lawson blog).  Washoe County residents from every district owe him their gratitude for his service on the planning commission and for the resolve he has shown defending their interests.

Prado Ranch Continued to 6/5/2019, 6PM

The Reno City Council agreed to the developer’s request to “continue” consideration of the development to a later date.  A developer is allowed two continuances under Reno code.  Also, the City usually grants a first continuance when requested by the developer.  When asked, the developer’s lobbyist explained that the developer wanted more time to review their plans especially regarding flood mitigation and might want to make improvements.  It sounded unconvincing.

A more plausible reason for the request for a continuance is that their appeal would not get a favorable vote.  The developer is requesting that the City Council overturn the Planning Commission decision to deny the project.  It is patently absurd for the developer to pursue it.  The property is entirely (or mostly) submerged in Swan Lake and the Spring runoff is only about to start.  Swan Lake is in crisis; with untreated sewage entering the lake, and rising water levels behind deteriorating Hesco barriers (industrial sand bags) threatening adjacent neighborhoods.

The council chambers were packed with residents.  Local TV crews were there from channels 2, 4, and 8.  Residents inveighed against this development during general public comment for over an hour.  Since the consideration was continued, there was no opportunity for item-specific public comment.  One resident requested that Councilwoman Weber recuse herself since she is familiar with George Peek who is the owner of the property to be developed.  A pair of priests attended and said a prayer that the City Council would benefit from divine wisdom.

Councilwoman Brekhus opposed the continuance.  She made the following points.

  • This project has been under consideration for 3-1/2 years.  We should address it now.  The city has spent too much time on it as it is.
  • If the developer is going to make changes to their plan, the plan should be re-submitted to the Planning Commission with attendant fees.  The City Council is not the body with the expertise to evaluate a new plan.
  • How about a temporary moratorium until conditions improve?  This could not be considered because it was not on the public agenda.

Mayor Schieve feels strongly that there needs to be a meeting between the City Council and the County Commission to come up with a strategy to address the flooding in Lemmon Valley.  She suggests that no new development be considered until after such a meeting.  The City Manager (Sabra Newby) agreed to arrange such a meeting.

The council deferred to Councilwoman Weber since the project is in her ward.  She moved to approve the continuance to a set date and time.  This was selected to be June 5, 2019 at 6:00 PM in the council chambers.  The vote was unanimous.

KTVN-2 coverage

NEWS-4 coverage

 

SB327 Codifying Malfeasance

“If the Nevada legislature made armed robbery legal, would it still be a crime?”

Senator Kiekhefer‘s new bill (SB327) makes some of the worst development and development-review practices legal.  It moves decision making into the shadows without public review, accountability, or due diligence.

[disclaimer: I am no lawyer, and I could be wrong in my interpretation.]

In apparent response to a novel development plan advanced by the Stonegate developers, Kiekhefer is proposing to change the NRS to accommodate their specific approach.  The Stonegate principals want to sell “superpads” which are tracts of land intended for residential construction which are part of a much larger development.  The current process is for a development to be completely designed so that individual residential lots and many details are defined.  So, the complete, design can be reviewed for tentative map approval.  Engineering reports would need to be submitted to show that there is traffic capacity, water availability, sewer treatment capacity, and flood control before the development can be approved by the planning commission at the tentative-map step.  This is the only step that gets public review and public input.

Under SB327, the primary developer can submit a plan for a Planned Unit Development (zoning exception) and tentative map including superpads which have no design details.  The primary developer would sell the superpads to commercial builders who would complete the detailed design for these large tracts.  This creates a number of issues the way the bill is written.  The changes affect the Planned Unit Development requirements in NRS 278A.

  • Under SB327, the development is never reviewed in its entirety.  Neither the planning commission nor the public gets to consider the finished product.  It is reviewed and approved piecemeal.
  • If the primary builder grades the entire project but the superpads don’t sell, we have a mammoth scar on the landscape for the indefinite future with erosion and other hazards.
  • SB327 is written so that the primary developer may include estimates of  water, traffic, sewer, emergency services, and other impacts the development will produce (SB327 9.2).
  • SB327 would not require the primary developer to submit his plan incorporating superpads to the planning commission for review.  The City or County could designate a manager or other professional to review the plan with no public review. (SB327 8.2a and 9.4)
  • SB327 would not require the secondary developers to submit any engineering reports regarding the tract plans.  So, no one is responsible for the engineering analysis of the finished design.
  • SB327 would require cities or counties to designate a single person to review and approve the secondary developers’ tract plans (SB327 8.2b and 13.1).  These plans would not go before the planning commission.  The city council or county commission would never vote on these plans.  There would be no public review.
  • SB327 would only allow the city or county 30 days to approve, conditionally approve, or disapprove a tract plan (SB327 13.1).  This is not enough time to seek public input or to get questions answered.
  • SB327 would only allow regional agencies 15 days to respond to a secondary developer’s tract plan (SB327-12.4).  Unreasonable.

Senator Kiekhefer works for the McDonald Carano Law Firm that represents the Stonegate developer.  It is apparent that he is sponsoring a bill specifically to favor a client at the expense of the public interest.  This is not the first time his malfeasance has been brought to public attention.

The Reno Gazette Journal reported on December 6, 2017 “In Nevada, Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer voted at least six times this year to advance measures benefiting clients of the law firm, McDonald Carano, where he works as director of client relations.”  Link to article.

If I understand this correctly, it is a profoundly scary piece of legislation that could move major development decisions completely out of the public eye.

If you want to contact your elected representatives, you can use these links.

Nevada Assembly     Nevada Senate     Find your senator and representative?

Nevada Senate Government Affairs Committee: Parks (Chair), Scheible (Vice Chair), Orenschall, Goicoechea, Kiekhefer

Senate Committees 2019

Dear Reader, I strongly encourage you to read the bill for yourself.  It is less than 8 pages long.  You would be wise not to depend on my interpretation.  SB327.

References:

RGJ Article 4/1/19

Stonegate Approval Illegal? (blog)

Stonegate Approval Illegal?

The Reno City Council approved the giant, far-flung Stonegate development at their meeting 2/14/18.  Councilwoman Brekhus was the only “no” vote citing many issues that were not adequately addressed in the application.  She went on to appeal the first development stage on the grounds that the creation of “superpads” is not permitted (1/10/19).  The developer proposed a novel plan in which the residential lots were not defined at the time of tentative map approval.  Instead, his plan incorporates “superpads” which are large tracts of land where individual lots are not defined.  The stated intent was to allow commercial builders to buy individual superpads and to come forward with tentative maps to their liking after purchase.

Brekhus argued that there is no allowance for superpads on tentative maps in the Nevada Revised Statute 278 that governs development.  The McDonald Carrano law firm (representing the developer) joined the city attorney and the community development staff to refute this interpretation of the Nevada statutes.  The Brekhus appeal was denied by the majority including Mayor Schieve, and Council Members Bobzien, Jardon, Duerr, and Weber.

For this current legislative session, Senate Bill SB327 formally authorizes the use of superpads on a tentative map.  This bill is sponsored by Senator Kiekhefer who is an employee of the McDonald Carrano law firm that represents the developer.  In light of SB327, one has to suspect that Councilwoman Brekhus was correct in her assessment that superpads are not permissible under current statutes.  The attendant conclusion is that the City approved a giant development that does not comply with Nevada law.  The city council’s development bias, that supercedes consideration for public good and adherence to the master plan, may have taken the city council too far in this case.

References:

Brekhus AppealBrekhus Superpad Appeal

Carrano Letter: McDonald-Carano Superpad justify_0

Obscure Sewer Bonds for South Valleys

Washoe County is supporting a $50 million dollar bond for sewer projects serviced by South Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility — which now is extending further south into Steamboat and Pleasant valleys. This appears to be mostly an effort to get taxpayers to front the cost of extending sewer services to new developments benefiting Reno and well into the south. The apparent beneficiaries include Pleasant Valley Estates and Sierra Reflections, St. James Village, and eventually new development up the Mt. Rose Highway.

The County claims that the cost of the bond will be eventually repaid through sewer hook up fees paid by developers. This is speculative and leaves the real possibility that the taxpayers and current ratepayers will be stuck with some or all of the bill. County Engineer Dwayne Smith claimed that no new developments south of the Geiger Grade area would be supported by this project, but it appears that Pleasant Valley Estates and perhaps others are among intended beneficiaries.

One long-time area resident requested a detailed breakdown of the planned bond expenditures. Among links she received from the county to agendas was information below gleaned from the Debt Management Commission agenda. On the bottom of page 12, there is an item for “South Valleys Meadows Sewer (connection fee)”. This category shows only the following items and totals.

  • South Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility Admin Building Expansion
    and Improvements; $2,500,000
  • South Truckee Meadows WRF Projects; $34,750,000
  • Geiger Lift Station and Interceptor; $11,000,000
  • South West Vista Lift Station Abandonment and Extension; $200,000
  • Steamboat Lift Station Capacity Expansion; $2,400,000
  • Pleasant Valley Sanitary Sewer Collection System; $4,000,000

The county’s bond description is: AgendaItem08

You don’t need to be a forensic accountant to see that most of the bond proceeds will go into the “WRF Projects” category which has no detailed description. This may not be a “slush fund” as has been historically used to cover up corruption and malfeasance, but it certainly appears to be one. Reno and Washoe have a history of using vague bond funds for convenient cash to support arbitrary and unethical disbursements. (A former Reno city manager left her employment after it was discovered she shifted sewer funds to pay city bills. The city of Reno refinanced trench bonds several times and for what?)

One resident requested a high resolution image of the map included in Dwayne Smith’s presentation to the Board of County Commissioners on 2/26/19. His presentation on sewer capacity and infrastructure included a map that was illegible due to the large scale being compressed to fit on his presentation slide. This map file has not been provided. Again, the County is not being transparent on this bond request.

Sewer capacity presentation (Staff Report – Manager – STMWRF Bonds 2019 (1))

In summary …

At best, this bond request is to extend sewer infrastructure to new developments at the expense of current ratepayers and at the risk of all taxpayers in Washoe County. The commissioners want the residents to pay for the developers to despoil the area. At worst, this is a boondoggle to facilitate malfeasance and corruption. Nevada’s Open Meeting Law does not help us if the commissioners will not provide information.

We need a very detailed breakdown of this entire $50 million – which developments benefit, by how much, and how will this money be paid back to the taxpayers of Washoe County.

And while we are at it, we need to know how many water rights are being purchased and be assured that these new developments are paying 100% for their own water lines, too. Existing residents cannot be expected to foot the bill, and jeopardize our water supply, for all this “go go” new growth.

Inaccessible in Reno

Reno decision on Prado Ranch: not accessible

Consideration of the Prado Ranch development in Lemmon Valley is scheduled for a meeting starting at 10AM on Wednesday, March 27 at the City Council Chambers.  Given the manifold problems associated with this development, it is telling that the City Council has scheduled it for a time when employed residents can’t be present.  This development will likely have a substantial negative impact on residents in terms of flooding, traffic, school overcrowding and safety in general.  The best practice of the City would be to have it considered in an evening meeting, or at least to have it scheduled for a “time certain” so that workers might plan to be absent from work in order to attend.

Meeting agenda 

Contact your council member

Reno City Council 3/13/19

Guest post by Pamela Galloway …

Who’s calling the shots around here?

Following are a few items of note gleaned from Wednesday’s Reno City Council meeting.

1. The “Public Comment” agenda item featured several citizens who discussed Lemmon Valley’s Swan Lake flooding problem. They came armed with photos. The water is rising and effluent is now everywhere, not contained to one part of the lake. The barriers are leaking. Citizen Danny Cleous — who lives near the lake and speaks regularly before the council and the commission — said that effluent is flowing everywhere now (versus being contained in one part of the lake) and he has been experiencing sickness for the last year, which he apparently attributes to this. People said they have had to put pets down because of the effluent. One photo depicted the back yard of the local elementary school, submerged in water. This entire matter is the subject of a lawsuit that goes to trial in June.

2. Some might recall that long ago Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus was calling for standing up a robust stormwater utility for City of Reno. (Reno would go it alone versus waiting for any regional effort.) Long before the election (flood ballot measure) Reno Director of Public Works John Flansberg analyzed the flood situation monetarily – river only – and determined that other municipalities would gain far more than the city of Reno, so the ballot measure was not a good deal for the city. Council members soured on the measure and several publicly voiced opposition to it. They talked of going it alone on stormwater problems. On Wednesday, a folksy middle-aged man from North Carolina gave a succinct presentation on Reno’s problems and what it would take to address them. He also works with New Orleans, LA, Philadelphia and other places. He analyzed Sparks, which he said had the most complex fee structure ever to address flood problems. Sparks charges itself some $13 monthly per residence, give or take. My sense is that this is “yes” – Reno is going to pursue this and set up its own stormwater utility, charging everyone to address all the ditches, creeks, flooding problems. In the end Brekhus commented quickly that of course the developers are all going to be paying for their own situations going forward. Currently Reno spends in a range of $1.8-$2.3 million yearly for stormwater problems. The expert said a few times, “Just call it $2 million” a year.

3. “Who’s calling the shots?” There was extensive testimony about the RTC overhaul of Midtown, Virginia Street, and some side streets. The head of RTC and others were being grilled, while business owners were quite concerned about outcomes – parking, landscaping, side streets. I gather RTC was perceived as making changes without the knowledge of the council. RTC seemed to be in a “well tell us what you want” mode. This concern seemed to be shared by the mayor and several council members. RTC is trying to create extra parking on side streets.

4. During the legislative updates the city’s liaison said that Ben Kieckhefer’s bill – studying fire issues – calls for the nearest unit(s) to respond to dispatches, regardless of jurisdiction and territory. In response to that, Brekhus said she wanted a fiscal analysis of this. (Critics say that Reno Fire Department fails to dispatch the closest fire engines, or delays in dispatching them. Other fire entities report ongoing difficulties dealing with Reno Fire Department, which is perceived as uncooperative. This has been going on for years. The criticism is that while another entity such as Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District or Sparks might have vehicles far closer to the scene, Reno does not engage automatic aid and summon the nearest help. I’m told this will also be the subject of an RGJ op-ed very soon.)