Before an overflow crowd, the Reno City Council voted 6-1 against the Lemmon Valley moratorium proposed by Council Member Brekhus. It was a marathon meeting starting at 5:30 PM and ending around 10:30. Some attendees were denied entry because there was no more standing room. The council voted also to appeal the recent decision favoring the plaintiffs in the class action suit. Also on the agenda was a list of resolutions regarding Lemmon Valley development which was adopted. The meeting was well attended by builders and developers with many familiar names present including Barnes, DeLoretto, Krympotic, Krater, and Peek. From local governments were Flansberg (Reno), Smith (Washoe County), and Enloe (TMWA). Ray Lake and Roger Edwards represented the North Valleys CAB.
There were 27 speakers signed up for opening public comment. There were 12 speakers in favor of the moratorium and 8 opposed. The residents made the following points.
- Reno isn’t following its own ordinances regarding retention basins.
- The effluent needs to be treated to the A+ level so as not to be a hazard.
- Reno should not appeal the verdict favoring the neighbors.
- Residents should count on the city to solve problems rather than create them.
- Any plan needs to protect the bird habitat in Swan Lake.
- The Honey Lake (aka Fish Springs) water is contaminated with carbofuran (a banned insecticide) from illegal pot farms in the area.
- There needs to be a plan to remove any water that is pumped into the basin.
- Don’t gamble with residents’ safety by building a reservoir above Silver Knolls.
- Moratoriums have been used by the city in the past: it’s not new or threatening.
- Get an infrastructure plan to support development before building.
Arlo Stockman (Reno) gave a presentation regarding land uses in the North Valleys (Land Uses in the North Valleys). He started with the original Stead Air Force base and discussed how growth there had boomed in the 70’s and 2000’s. The Great Recession disrupted growth with city layoffs and a halt to infrastructure work. The infrastructure planning is still behind. He claimed that the Re-Imagine Reno plan of 2017 intended for growth to the North and East. Council members raised questions and issues.
Duerr “How about our inspections to confirm conformance?” Stockman “Every new site gets inspected before it is occupied.”
Brekhus “Nowhere does the master plan encourage sprawl to the North and East.” Stockman “It’s part of a balanced plan of infill and growth.”
Reese “Why do we do a regional plan?” Stockman “So we can have a brighter future.”
John Flansberg made a presentation on the RSWRF sewer plant expansion plan (RSWRF_Capacity_080519) . This plan was previously denied by the Reno Planning Commission. He made the point that most of the RSWRF effluent is consumed in the summer for agriculture, construction, and the Sierra Sage Golf Course. He wants to see some reservoir or storage capacity for the winter when there is little demand for the reclaimed water. He reiterated that the effluent was treated to the Class-A standard, but there is information indicating it was Class-C. It may be that the plant can produce either one. Council members raised questions and issues.
Brekhus “You know there is about to be a proposal from the TMWRF sewer plant for their expansion that will be in addition to this $55M bond. It sounds like having only 40,000 gallons per day in slack capacity means your operating at 97% of your 2 million gallon per day limit.” Flansberg “We can use the ‘flow-shave’ (pipeline) to send up to 0.5 million gallons per day to the TMWRF plant to give us some margin.”
Reese “Is the flow shave to support new development or to reduce flooding in Swan Lake?” Flansberg “Both.”
Brekhus “What about the new proposed $55M sewer bond? What will it mean to rate payers? I’m not comfortable doubling our sewer debt and abandoning the current pay-as-you-go system.” Flansberg “The $55M is only to cover the RSWRF plant expansion. The bond will be paid for by developer hook-up fees over time. It will take 30 months to expand the plant once the plan is approved.”
Karl Hall (City Attorney) described his proposal to appeal the verdict of the class action suit by the Lemmon Valley plaintiffs that was decided against Reno in District Court. He claimed that the “class” was not valid and included individuals who had not been flooded. He would petition a writ of mandamus that the city had been denied due process. Council members raised questions and issues.
[Note: 160 residents experienced some flooding. It strains credulity to think that some of the 54 plaintiffs were not flooded.]
Brekhus “We need to move forward and do the right thing. We need to think about a buy out program for these folks. I’m starting to see it as a social justice issue. We’re fighting a lot of people that don’t have a lot of resources. The jury got it right.”
Reese “Did you interview jurors after the trial?” Hall “The jury was split. Many of the claimants weren’t flooded.”
Schieve “Can we still have a settlement conference?” Hall “Yes, but we’ve been unable to reach an agreement.”
Duerr “I’m committed to a settlement. Will the insurance cover it?” Hall “No. The insurance won’t cover based on the type of claims. It will need to come out of the general fund.”
Schieve “Can’t we get the county involved?” Hall “The judge would not allow Washoe County to become part of the case.”
Brekhus “How about a new case if there is more flooding this winter (2019)? I think we need to consider appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court: they can be very generous in ruling for plaintiffs against a local government.”
Reese “I support your (Hall) efforts to determine class. I resent that someone would intimate that this is a social justice issue.”
Council Member Brekhus made the case for her moratorium from the podium. She presented a diagram she had made indicating the many inter-related issues and concerns that plague continued building in Lemmon Valley. It’s very complicated and does not lend itself to being decided in a single meeting. The moratorium is a time to plan, it is not simply time lost for progress. The current situation will be bad for builders since we will run out of sewer capacity suddenly and have no comprehensive plan to move forward. Builders will suffer with the uncertainty. Council members raised questions and issues.
Duerr “How long would the moratorium last?” Brekhus “18-24 months.”
Jardon “What’s the legal exposure to the city if we implement a moratorium?” Hall “The city could be sued by builders depending on the phase of their projects when the moratorium was enacted.”
Brekhus “We will need to plan in detail which projects would be impacted by the moratorium. We need to determine the exact cut-off.”
Agenda item C-2 was a list of resolutions to guide staff in making decisions about waste water and development in Lemmon Valley. It made some laudable points, but it seems divorced from the reality of Reno city government.
- The expansion of RSWRF is to result in the production of Class-A+ effluent.
- Downstream residents are not to be impacted by storm water runoff from new development.
- Storm water retention on new developments is to be at least a 1.1 : 1 volume ratio of the runoff increased by the developments.
Council members responded.
Brekhus “We should not be so specific in this resolution. We don’t know if 1.1 : 1 is the correct ratio. We should not commit now when we have not looked into the science.”
Duerr “Let’s use the ‘flow shave’ to reduce effluent flow into Swan Lake now rather than using it to support more development. We should have a Swan Lake Restoration Committee to lead the efforts to address the issues.”
Before the votes, there was another opportunity for public comment (22 asked to speak). During this interval, opponents of the moratorium outnumbered the proponents by 11 to 6. It was dominated by builders and developers. They made the familiar arguments about needing economic development, jobs, and a lot more housing. The Vidler Pipeline attorney vehemently defended the quality of the water pumped in from Honey Lake. Speakers made the following points.
- The Vidler water is too salty.
- There are five recently-completed, giant warehouses that are standing empty.
- New development in Lemmon Valley is too expensive to be considered affordable.
- The moratorium will drive up the cost of new housing.
- The new reservoir will only reduce flows to Swan Lake by 600 acre-feet/year when the RSWRF expansion will increase effluent flows over 2200 acre-feet/year.
- The list of resolutions is laughable. The city is not enforcing it’s own requirement for retention ponds. Why would they honor these resolutions?
Item B-3 to appeal the verdict of the class action suit; 5 to 2 (Brekhus, Schieve against)
Item C-1 to approve a temporary moratorium on building in Lemmon Valley; 6 to 1 (Brekhus for)
Item C-2 to adopt the list of resolutions; 6 to 1 (Brekhus against)
Brekhus “While the moratorium proposal failed, we’re about to hit the limit that RSWRF can handle soon. This will be like having the moratorium.”
Schieve “We need a solution that involves all the interested parties including the council, the agencies, the residents and the developers. No solution is possible without the support from all parties. We should move forward on solutions: the moratorium would take too long.”
- The RSWRF sewer plan is at the limit of capacity if it does not use the ‘flow shave’ to support new development. The council has instructed the plant not to do so, but it is hard to imagine they will deny hook-ups for new projects.
- This was a big issue and got a big, impassioned response from the residents. It is more daylight to disinfect the process and to engage more residents in local government.
- While they got their way, the developers were anxious enough to come out in force.
- The city continues to support developers at the expense of homeowners.