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.)