New County Planning Commissioner

This is a guest post by Mike Lawson.  He was interested in his replacement on the planning commission and had a meeting with her to understand her perspective and to share what he as learned from serving on the commission. 

As the outgoing planning commissioner for Washoe County district 2, I was more than a little interested in meeting my successor, especially considering that Commissioner Lucey’s decision not to recommend me for reappointment was politically motivated. I had made the wise but unforgivable choice to support his opponent (Steve Wolgast) in the recent election. Additionally, I voted in opposition to approval of development and zone changes which would benefit the special interests (many of whom contributed to Commissioner Lucey’s campaign), but don’t comply with the area plans. I was also concerned that Ms. Nelson’s appointment might have been influenced by the fact she is acting County manager Dave Solaro’s sister. So, it is not surprising that I was a little suspicious about my replacement and meeting with her would either corroborate or assuage my doubts about why she was selected to replace me.
I asked to meet with Ms. Nelson at her place of employment and she kindly obliged. I am pleased to report I found her to be a thoughtful and affable neighbor who shares the WRAP community concern about appropriate planning, or rather the lack thereof, demonstrated in recent years by Washoe County and the City of Reno. She was well informed about recent development along the Mt. Rose corridor and shared the citizens’ concerns about the safety and environmental issues, which have been exacerbated by poor land use development. She is informed and concerned about the flooding issues in the north valleys and the environmental concerns in Damonte ranch. She asked intelligent questions about my experience on the commission and was interested in my responses. I genuinely believe she is a well-intended citizen looking to preserve the character of the area plans while also ensuring technical reports supporting development are scrutinized to ensure the information is accurately represented, codes are complied with, and required findings can be met.
Nothing I have written is intended to suggest I speak for her. I am simply offering my impression based on a single conversation we had this week. However, I do believe she is both qualified to serve on the planning commission and has our existing communities and neighborhoods best interest at heart. I am also convinced her relationship to Dave Solaro had no influence on her appointment. WRAP and the citizens who read this blog and contribute to our cause are among the best citizens in our community. You have treated me fairly and with kindness and I thank you for that. I am asking you do the same for Kate Nelson unless or until she demonstrates she does not deserve it. We owe her that. Thank you.

A Conversation with Paul McKenzie

Tammy Holt-Still hosted a meeting with Paul McKenzie, George Still, and Steve Wolgast.  Paul McKenzie was the Reno City Councilman for the North Valleys.  This position is now held by Bonnie Weber.  McKenzie brought up a number of points that area residents may not know.

  • The storm drain systems for Silver Lake and Swan Lake are connected.  There is a rise between the two lake basins, but if the water gets high enough, it can flow from one to the other.  It does not look like this happened in the past two years.
  • Reno has a stop-loss liability policy which would apply to the class-action suit.  So, if the Swan Lake neighbors damages exceed limit (maybe $2M), the insurance company takes over the litigation and negotiation.
  • The settlement of the suit could include requirements relating to a plan to address the flooding in general.  This would be negotiated as part of the settlement.
  • Since the city was found guilty of “taking” (part of the “inverse condemnation” claim), there is no cap to the damages that could be awarded.
  • While only retention ponds can meet the mitigation requirements of the Regional Drainage Manual for development in Lemmon Valley, Reno does not use these in part because the Reno Department of Health does not allow such water to stand indefinitely.  This sounds like a fundamental problem since the water captured by the retention ponds is likely to take some time to percolate and evaporate.
  • Proposed Master Plan Amendments can not be summarily denied.  A Master Plan Amendment can only be denied by indicating that it does not meet the statutory “findings”.
  • The Western Regional Water Commission (WRWC) has responsibilities under NRS for responsible water management, water sustainability, and storm water management.  Some of these responsibilities are beyond TMWA‘s charter.  WRWC should be fulfilling its duty to develop a comprehensive plan to manage water availability, storm water run off, sewage collection and treatment, and flood control.
  • One promising plan to address flooding was to pump some of the RSWRF effluent  to Hungry Valley where the tribe would like the water for agriculture.  This plan broke down during negotiations with the tribe for unknown reasons.  TMWA appeared to be opposed to it.  TMWA sees effluent water as a valuable resource even as it causes flood damage.
  • Reno now uses drinking water for the landscaping of new developments in the North Valleys since the Public Works Director does not want to commit to delivering more effluent water for irrigation.
  • One concern with processing the RSWRF effluent through TMWRF is financial.  Reno and Sparks operate the TMWRF plant at a 66%/33% split (Reno/Sparks).  If TMWRF were to take RSWRF effluent, their percentage would increase so that the agreement would need to be re-negotiated.
  • Water is being provided for new development through the Vidler Pipeline coming from Fish Springs in California.  California has plans to limit the depletion of aquifers in the state.  This could impact the new Lemmon Valley developments.
  • Tentative map approvals expire unless they’re renewed.  Planned Unit Development (PUD) approvals do not expire.  The PUD specifies the number of dwellings to be built on a property, so once it is approved, the area is stuck with the size and density of development.
  • The area with the Amazon warehouse and other warehouses was originally zoned residential.  It was re-zoned to industrial following the Great Recession and the collapse of the residential housing market.  This includes the area on North Virginia Street and the area at Lemmon Drive and Military Road.

Going forward …

  • The City of Reno should be discouraged from moving forward with an appeal to the verdict in the Lemmon Valley class action suit.  Some progress may be possible in this regard through informal contacts.
  • There should be a moratorium.  There is no plan to handle the excess run off and the increasing waste water volume.
  • A strategy is needed to change the NRS in the coming session so that it grants more rights to homeowners.  As it is, it is blatantly biased in support of developers.  There are two parts to this effort.
    • Identify what changes need to be made to the statutes.
    • Identify a champion to promote these changes in the coming session.


Mercury in Bella Vista Ranch?

This is a letter from Kim Rhodemyre to the mayor and Reno City Council regarding Mercury in an area proposed for development.  Kim is an authority on flooding and environmental issues in the area and leads the Upper Southeast Communities Coalition.

Dear Mayor Schieve and Reno City Council members,

On June 6th Randy Walter representing Bella Vista Ranch Phase II appeared before the Planning Commission to request on behalf of the applicant an amendment to the already approved Bella Vista Ranch Phase II. They wanted to add 20 more houses to their project. After reading through the handbook the Upper South East Communities Coalition has some significant concerns that we raised at this meeting but are now additionally concerned that the applicant is just going to start his project without the 20 additional homes because of the significant issues we raised at that meeting would cost them money.

This project was originally approved in 2013, but ALL of the significant and critical flood modeling was done way before that. On page 13, section 2, c.2 of the PUD, the modeling is so outdated that it might as well have been written on a stone tablet.

The Army Corps of Engineers approved the 404 permit in 2005. This was before the issue of Mercury became known. This project sits in the middle of a wetland that is flooded by Steamboat Creek on a regular basis and the applicant should be stopped from doing any grading or begin any movement of earth until a comprehensive grid test is done of the entire property. There has been NO testing for mercury in the project site. The safety of the surrounding residents and the future residents, depend on testing.

Additionally the Flood Control Master Plan and the flood storage plan are from 2006! The CLOMR is from 2007 and the LOMR from 2008. These are at least 10 years out of date! The entire area has changed and there is significantly more development and the Southeast Connector was not factored into the modeling. The flood storage basin in this project is so small it is a joke and is a danger to surrounding residents. We don’t have to tell you that flood modeling has significantly changed since 2006 and this project is a danger to not only the future residents but all the surrounding communities as well.

Recently the Daybreak Master Plan was denied by City Council for not being able to make a number of the findings. One item addressed at that time, and was significant, was that FEMA wants a remap of the entire east side of the valley and Jay Aldean, Executive Director of the Truckee River Flood Management Authority has already informed Council that all current flood elevation maps are at minimum 1 foot off- and that puts water in their project. He also stated that the remap will put a significant number of south Reno residents into the flood plain.

The Coalition is urging Council to get involved in this issue and require the applicant to update modeling and test for mercury before any permits are issued. The applicant went before Planning in June for 20 additional houses. They might just think that 20 houses are not worth going to City Council and will continue on as is with their approved PUD. Reports are that they are staging at the old gun club already.

We are asking you, for the safety of the entire area, to get involved and don’t let this project move forward without additional testing and modeling. If you allow this project to continue without these critical avenues followed and resolved, you could be criminally liable.

I would appreciate a response.

Thank you,

Kimberly Rhodemyre, Chair
Upper South East Communities Coalition


Daybreak links

Reno denies Daybreak

Daybreak development continued

Daybreak Redux


Class-Action Suit: Epilogue

The plaintiffs (neighbors) prevailed on their claims of “inverse condemnation” and “conversion”.  In some regards, the neighbors had won before the verdict was read.  A lot of information was presented at trial that confirmed the malfeasance of the city toward the Lemmon Valley residents.  The city council should feel chastened.

Here are some of the points made in the trial that I thought were significant.

  • The Quad-Knopf study was completed in 2007 having been commissioned by the city.  The study concluded that suburban-density development should never be done in that closed basin.  If such development were done, it would require 100% mitigation.  The mitigation would be retention basins that could hold 100% of the runoff from the property due to the impervious surfaces.  The study considered all the solutions that are currently being considered, and found that none were promising.  Reno ignored the results and approved high density development with no mitigation or inadequate mitigation.
  • The Ecologic study commissioned by the City of Reno in 2005 addressed the issue of waste water effluent contributing to flooding.  It indicated that increasing development supported by “imported” water (from outside the basin) would cause flooding if the effluent were discharged into Swan Lake.  It indicated that there was no easy or cost effective way to handle additional effluent generated in the basin.
  • NRS states that “Approval of tentative map by the city does not constitute ‘substantial involvement’ with the development.”  This seems to indicate that the city is not responsible for anything that it explicitly approves.  The NRS should be changed.
  • After the 1986 flooding, the Regional Water Commission was formed to consider flood characteristics of Lemmon Valley.  The RWC concluded that all developments should have 100% mitigation of their impervious runoff.  Reno did not want to be bound by their results.
  • Reno paid HDR $325,000 for their engineers to testify for the defense against the scientific evidence supporting the plaintiffs.  Once their testimony was done, Reno granted HDR a new contract for $1,000,000 for a feasibility study about a new reservoir.  It sure looks like quid-pro-quo.
  • Dave Solaro claimed that Washoe County didn’t evict residents from flooded properties, but the county put red and yellow tags on homes that said “Do not enter.” and “Uninhabitable”.
  • While there were 57 plaintiffs in the suit, there were 160 homes with flooded septic systems.
  • Mike DeMartini testified that a home on a 1-acre lot will have almost no impact on runoff compared to a 1-acre parcel in its natural state.  He remembered seeing almost no runoff from his 1/3 acre lot during a heavy storm.
  • Most of the existing development is within the City of Reno.  The older neighborhoods in the county are on 1-acre lots with well and septic.  They produce little run off and no effluent.  The county’s role will change with the new Prado North and Lemmon Valley Heights developments both approved by the county commissioners.
  • The RSWRF permit with the NDEP allows them to discharge effluent in Swan Lake up to the 100 year flood plain which would cause major flooding around the lake.
  • The RSWRF measuring flume (gauge) was overflowing for almost 1,400 hours.  They really don’t know how much effluent and storm water they discharged to the lake.  The experts for Reno, used the recorded flow data which was clearly too low.
  • When Silver Lake flooded, the Lear lift station pumped a lot of runoff along with sewage to RSWRF and this was discharged to Swan Lake after treatment.  This could have been avoided with better attention to the storm sewers in Silver Lake.
  • Reno doubled the developed area around Swan Lake since 2005.  Their mitigation efforts had negligible effect.
  • 2017 was a “ten-year” storm, not a “100-year” storm.  It had less precipitation than 1986, 1997, and 2005.
  • The RSWRF plant has a bypass line that could have sent some of the RSWRF flow to TMWRF, but this bypass line failed during the storm.
  • Undisturbed parcels will likely have 3-10% runoff from storms: roughly 90% will be absorbed.  Developed parcels will have 68-90% runoff: roughly 20% will be absorbed.

Charged moments:

  • Roger asserted that Shipman lied (ok … “made a fallacious statement”) that the city had not hired a consultant to assess the damages that the plaintiffs had suffered.  Shipman didn’t dispute it.  It makes me wonder if Reno was thinking about a settlement before the verdict.
  • Roger asked Reno’s hydrologist, Forest, “Did you select methods to support the answer that Reno wanted?”
  • McMahon (hydrologist for Reno) repeatedly contradicted earlier testimony he’d given in a deposition.  Roger repeatedly asked “Do you remember answering this question in your deposition?”  followed by “Do you remember how you swore to tell the truth?”.  At one point, McMahon made a retort.  The judge came down on him hard.
  •  John Flansberg, Reno Public Works, did not seem to know that the Reno design manual requires mitigation on all projects to reduce runoff.  The first time he asked anyone on his staff to look into mitigation was 2018.

Open issues:

  • Will Reno ever go back and seal the drains in the retention basins that are not built to the city handbook?  These function as detention basins, which is not what is required.  Will they fine the builders or developers?  Most of the developments do not comply with the Reno ordinance for mitigation.


Quad-Knopf study: 40 PLF 1812- 2338 North Valleys Flood Control, Vol I & II, Quad Knopf_ABBR    [Note that appendices and references have been removed to limit the file size.]

Ecologic study: 133 PLF 1630-1662 2005 NV Effluent Disposal Options