Over 100 residents were present in the North Valleys High School cafeteria for a meeting in preparation for a joint meeting of the City of Reno and Washoe County on April 29. The joint meeting has the sole purpose to consider plans to address the flooding in Lemmon Valley. Both the city and the county have approved development that has contributed to the flooding. To date, the two governments have not worked together on the problem and their efforts have been unsatisfactory.
Roger Doyle described the state of residents’ class-action lawsuit (Filed Complaint) against the City of Reno for their part in causing the flooding. He made the following points.
- The case will go before a judge on June 10. The research and investigation are done. The facts are established. It is time that the legal arguments are being presented to the court. Can the argument prove that the city is culpable?
- Doyle looked for feedback from the community on how they wanted the case to proceed. There are 55 homeowners in the class-action lawsuit, and he wanted some idea of their priorities.
- The criterion of joining the suit was that there was flooding on the homeowner’s property. Residents would be sorted into groups based on the damage caused by the flooding. The class was closed at the end of May 2017. Residents should keep their receipts for flood related damage and expenses.
- The outcome could be a financial disbursement or a buyout. If it’s a buyout, it would be based on the property values before the flooding in 2017. Legally, a buyout must reflect the Fair Market Value at the time of the flooding. It’s unknown if appreciation for the last two years would be considered.
- Whatever the outcome, “It won’t be enough”. Residents who leave will likely not find similar large-lot properties within 10 miles of Reno. The county can take the homes by eminent domain as an alternate to a buyout. The result will be the same to residents in that the compensation will need to reflect the FMV before the flooding. In this case of inclusion in the County/FEMA program, FEMA would require that the properties taken not have any development in the future.
- Doyle exhorted the residents to advocate publicly for their case. Political pressure is key. The residents need to make their voices heard to get a fair outcome. He suggested they write Commissioner Herman (their commissioner) and the members of the city council. He is already seeing a shift of opinions on the county commission. If the residents don’t stand up, the City and the County will pick the cheapest option.
- Doyle reminded residents “This is Nevada: Water, flat land, and money are in short supply.”
- The table of options (BCC 04-09-19 – Lemmon Valley Matrix) presented by County Assistant Manager (Dave Solaro) to the county commission did not have nearly enough information to make a sound decision.
- The suit does not address recent efforts that Reno has made to address the flooding. It does not specifically address the hazard presented by the contaminated water. Any contaminated water during the flooding events is a factor in whether the flooding damaged properties.
- It’s a big suit with thousands of pages of documents, many depositions, and a lot of research. Doyle described a settlement as a “free roll” for the City in that a settlement wouldn’t come out of their budget (FEMA?).
- There is no flooding above the 4925’ elevation. This leaves 150 homes at lower elevations. Washoe County offered to buy out some of the 25 homes that are within 100 yards of the shore.
- The residents, the City, and the property owners, need to come to come together on a solution. Declining to negotiate seriously and settle would mean going to trial which would be risky and exotically expensive.
- Consideration of a moratorium on new development and construction is not part of the suit. People will need to accept that development will happen. The development needs to be reasonable and responsible. Residents are mostly happy to have Walmart and Smiths nearby for shopping.
- What if the case is settled, and there is new, increased flooding? Given that neither the city nor the county is ready to halt development, this is a real possibility. This would be a new suit.
Aside: Doyle suggested residents see John Oliver’s piece on FEMA flood insurance. Viewers may not like the humor, but the piece is informative (19 minutes).
Tammy Holt-Still took over the agenda once Doyle was finished.
- The Prado North petition for judicial review was denied on April 9 on the grounds that she lacked standing. This was due to an inconsistency in the NRS that states that the petitioner must petition both the Planning Commission decision and the County Commission decision even when the Planning Commission decision is favorable to the petitioner. It is literally nonsense. Residents indicated that they wanted to move forward with an appeal to the Supreme Court and to initiate a case based on a Writ of Mandamus (a special remedy that allows a suit to force a government body to perform a duty under the law).
- Holt-Still indicated that there was an opportunity for negotiations with Reno. She sought a consensus on several issues regarding the sewer plants and the possibility of a Special Assessment District for flood-related improvements in the North Valleys. Further details will be available following the negotiations.
Commissioner Herman pointed out that the Vidler Pipeline from Honey Lake is contributing to Swan Lake. This is in addition to the 2.5 million gallons per day contributed by the Lemmon Valley sewer plant. The County plans to expand this to 4 million gallons per day.
The presenters stuck to the facts and key considerations. The questions were pointed. The answers were frank. Some frustration was expressed. But information was effectively provided and consensus on important issues was established. It was a little rough, but it was democracy in action.
There is no time yet scheduled for this meeting on Monday, April 29th, but I wouldn’t miss it. It is a big event with far reaching ramifications for the rights of homeowners and the relations between Reno and Washoe County. It may be a spectacle. Also, I need to show solidarity with these residents who have been so grossly wronged by our local governments. While their suffering may be the most egregious, their fight is the fight of neighborhoods all over the Truckee Meadows.