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.

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.)

County Scandal 3/12/19 Edition

It looks like the deteriorating conditions are taking a sharp turn for the worse in Lemmon Valley.  Neighbors reported to the Washoe County Commission today the following developments.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0006.JPG

There appears to be a portable unit pumping untreated effluent directly into Swan Lake.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0005.JPG

Some of the levies around the wastewater plant are now submerged so that the  treatment basins are no longer isolated from Swan Lake.

One neighbor only has one dry spot on her 10-acre property.  Her car gets stuck in the mud on the way to the paved road.  She is seeing the worst flooding in recent years and the runoff season is just starting.

The elementary school is at the edge of the floodwaters.  Plastic nets have been erected as temporary fencing to keep the pupils from the contaminated water.

The road bed under Pompe Road now has ten steady leaks from one side to the other through the road bed.  These are new in the last few weeks and appear to be growing.  County Engineer Dwayne Smith has asserted that this leakage does not threaten the integrity of the road.  He has little credibility with the neighbors.

The Hesco barriers have ever increasing leaks as they deteriorate.

Not raised today by the speakers is that observation that this year is not an unusual year for storms or for precipitation.  The “new normal” for these residents appears to be deteriorating.

Rough Reception for Silver Hills Project

NV_CAB_031119_E

The Silver Hills development at Silver Knolls was introduced at the North Valleys Citizens Advisory Board last night.  It was met with unbridled derision by residents primarily from Lemmon Valley and Silver Knolls.  The plan includes building 1,872 homes on 780 acres west of the Stead Airport.  The developer wants changes to the Master Plan and zoning requirements to allow 2.4 homes per acre (average).  The current zoning requires 1 acre lots.

Public Comment included the following points; it was a full house

  • Silver Knolls and Red Rock residents are concerned about declining property values due to the high density development.
  • Area schools are already at capacity and traffic is already bad.  The Stead Sewer Plant expansion is only in the “study” phase.
  • A lot of time and effort went into the Character Management Plan.  We should not make exceptions casually.  Why have a plan if every development is an exception?
  • There are 15,000 residences approved but not built and 100,000 more that could be built following current zoning.  There is no need for higher densities.
  • Lemmon Valley residents reported that their situation is more dire with increased flood coverage and failing retention levies. In Lemmon Valley, parts of the sewage levy are now underwater.  The unpaved section of Deodar is impassible.
  • How about a fund from developer fees to solve the flooding?

There was open scorn for the County and City from the residents.

  • “Does the County Commission only exist to support corporate profits?”
  • A call for a moratorium on construction generated applause from the audience.
  • “Where is Bonnie Weber?  She has been responsible for a lot of the problem development in the North Valleys.”

The developer made the following points with their presentation.

  • Their design will be further changed, so this presentation is only preliminary.  They will come back with an updated design in a couple of months.
  • They have reduced the total residence count from 2,340 to 1,872.
  • They have limited the kinds of companies that could occupy the commercial area.
  • They have updated sewer and drainage to better protect Swan Lake.

The Board members raised the following questions and made the following points.

  • “How will the developer help to improve the limited law enforcement?” (Aquila)
  • “How will traffic be managed when traffic is already a problem?” (unidentified)
  • “Our infrastructure can’t handle this additional development.” (Aquila)
  • “Why have a Master Plan if the County is so willing to make exceptions?” (Aquila)
  • “I won’t be voting for any new development.” (Edwards)
  • “I want to ‘agendize’ a discussion about how we can implement a total building moratorium.” (Edwards)
  • “The CAB should have more control over their own agenda.  [It’s been curtailed by the County Commission.]  The CAB should be able to cover issues with RTC, NDOT, and other agencies. (Lake)

The traffic report done by Paul Solaegui was hotly contested.  Residents scoffed at the traffic report that was conducted Saturday at 8AM on July 2 during the holiday weekend.  It was pointed out that the same traffic engineer did a traffic study for the Prado North development on the day after New Years Day.  The new elementary school traffic is not accounted for.

Mr. Soleagui defended his work claiming the study was “statistically meaningful”.  The new elementary school will draw traffic only in the neighborhood, so it doesn’t need to be considered.  He is very experienced and follows a lot of RTC guidelines in his work.  He is instructed which intersections to consider.  He admitted that State and County standards permit traffic congestion that most residents would find objectionable.  The audience was not convinced.

There was no vote: this presentation is preliminary and only for information.  It will be submitted to the CAB again after it has been updated.

Commissioner Herman spoke thanking residents for attending and “defending their neighborhoods”.  She also spoke of a recent trip to Washington DC and how she has “something in the works”.

Developer handout: Silver_Hills_Handout_031119_0001_scw

 

Area Economy, Jobs, & Housing 3/7/19

The Reno Financial Advisory Board saw a presentation (national_regional economic outlook) on the national economy with a report on economic activity in the Reno and Sparks area.  Information on jobs and housing bear on development in the area.

My takeaways …

Eugenia Larmore (consultant) reported on the national economy.

  • The national economy is expected to slow down in 2019 but not to enter a recession.  Growth is expected to slow down from 2.7% in 2019 to 2.0% in 2020 (adjusted for inflation).
  • Expect existing home sales to fall 1.1% in 2019 and rise 4.0% in 2020.
  • Expect new home sales to rise 3.4% in 2019 and 9.2% in 2020.
  • Gaming revenue is down in Washoe County and Las Vegas, but meals and amenities (resort features) revenues are up.

Brian Bonnenfant (UNR Business School) reported on the Reno and Sparks area economy.

Housing Demand

  • Area employment peaked at 223,900 in 2007 falling to 189,100 in 2011, and rising to 241,167 in 2018.  The net increase over 11 years was 17,267 jobs.
  • Expect 9,000 new jobs to be created in 2019 for a total of 250,221.  This maintains the roughly 4% annual increase since 2012.
  • Home and apartment demand in 2018 were less than in 2016.
  • Only 327 existing homes sold in January 2019 as opposed to 570 sold in January 2018.  This is the lowest since February 2009.

Housing Supply

  • There are now 3,953 apartments under construction with another 7,418 approved.
  • New apartment construction in 2018 was 2,216.
  • New home sales were 1,572 in 2018.

Affordability

  • Affordability is the issue: $81,700 household income needed to afford the median existing home costing $367,000 (Q4 2018).  Median household income is $75,268.
  • Median home buyers are shopping for a townhouse or a condo.
  • New home sales in 2018 had median prices rising from $420,000 to $510,000 falling to $480,000 in January 2019.
  • Median existing-home price for homes sold in January 2019 was $360,000.
  • Average apartment rents dipped to $1,292 in Q4 2018 down from a peak of $1,319 in Q2 2018.

Miscellaneous

  • While the labor force is growing about 4% per year, school enrollment is flat since 2016.
  • Residents moving within Washoe County (50,000) are greater than the new residents moving from other areas (27,500) in 2018.

Labor and Employment

  • Manufacturing (mostly TRIC) showed the biggest increase in jobs: 3,183 (2017/2018).  Average manufacturing wages are $28.72/hour.
  • Manufacturing employment is expected to continue to grow the fastest in 2019 followed by construction.
  • Total employment breaks down in the following order: Leisure & Hospitality, Professional Services, Government, and Education.  Manufacturing ranks seventh.

 

My assessment of the information is that the real estate market is cooling entering 2019.

  1. Existing home sales turned down.
  2. Existing home prices are flat or down.
  3. Rents went down.
  4. New home prices are down.

It may just be a dip, but it may be time to pause development and absorb the many homes and apartments that are being built or are approved to be built.  This report does not support the argument that the area has a desperate need for new housing.  New condos or townhouses are likely to be the most popular.  TMRPA reports there are 15,000 new homes and apartments in the area which are approved but not yet built.

Lemmon Valley Warehouse not approved

The Reno Planning Commission failed to approve an application by Makita for a distribution warehouse and training center on Military Road.  This was to be a massive structure: 818,000 sqft on a 46 acre lot.  The location is quite close to the shore of Swan Lake, but was on a rise above the shore elevation.

Neighbors expressed the following concerns:

  • The current flooding in Lemmon Valley may be worse than it was in 2017.  The flooding needs to be addressed before more development is approved.
  • There should be a moratorium on new construction until the flooding is addressed.
  • Lemmon Drive is closed due to flooding.  The only access to the neighborhoods is Military Road.  Construction would constrict traffic further.
  • Pompe Road has water flowing through the base road bed.  It is at risk of washing out.
  • Water is flowing under the existing Hesco barriers.
  • Some detention ponds in the area are empty despite the bad flooding.
  • The detention ponds don’t work.
  • The toxic water is now close to the neighborhood school.
  • It’s been 2-1/2 years that the floods have been present.  The neighbors should be thanking the City for solving the problem by now; not reminding them of the crisis.
  • The warehouse lot isn’t level.  Where will the sediment flow after all the grading is done?

One neighbor suggested that detention ponds be dug close to Swan Lake to reduce flooding.  He further suggested that the developer in this case could do some of it since the property borders on Swan Lake.

The developer’s engineer asserted that the site will incorporate over a million gallons worth of detention pond volume.  This will more than compensate for the increased run-off due to the paving.  The developer’s hydrologist admitted that the detention ponds need regular “maintenance” to be effective.  This mainly involves digging out accumulated silt so that the pores in the base soil can drain the water.  He said that the maintenance would be a good idea after every major storm.  That sounds impractical.

The commissioners made the following points.

  • We need a comprehensive solution to the flooding in the area involving, Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County.  This ad-hoc approach is insufficient. (Marshall)
  • We’re trying to solve the problem by applying conditions to the individual developments rather than tackle it on a larger scale.
  • This tall warehouse is on a rise so that it would be visually prominent even with landscaping. (Johnson)

The vote was 3-3 which means that the project was not approved.

For: Weiske, Gower, Olivas

Against: Marshall, Johnson, Hawkins

Griffith recused herself since her family company is working on this project

 

Daybreak Redux, Ward 3 NAB 3/5/19

 

Rio_Wrangler-North-II_Parcel-Map_01C

Not content with just a lawsuit against Reno for denying the original Daybreak project, the developers are making another attempt to get the project approved piecemeal.  Last night, the developer presented two requests for master plan amendments (and re-zoning) and presented a third project for tentative map approval.  The new re-zoning requests are for projects called South Meadows West and Rio Wrangler North II.  The third project was the Butler Ranch North development which has received the zoning amendment and now seeks tentative map approval.  The tentative map will provide minimal detail since it defines 9 “villages”.  The developer plans to sell the village parcels to developers who will complete the plan and apply for tentative maps individually.  The Rio Wrangler North development is also part of the Daybreak project.  It is located east of the Rio Wrangler North II project.

The Reno Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB) meeting was sparsely attended.  One neighbor expressed concerns about traffic, school overcrowding, flooding, and Mercury contamination.  She appeared to speak for other neighbors present.

The developer’s spokesman (from Wood Rogers) admitted that the individual developments were components of the original Daybreak project.  The South Meadows West and Rio Wrangler North form the southern part of the original Daybreak proposal north of the Damonte Ranch area.  The Rio Wrangler North II development fits between the South Meadows West and Rio Wrangler North developments.  The massive Daybreak project lies on the west side of Veterans Parkway between South Meadows Parkway and Mira Loma Drive.  It is not clear whether there were any changes between the original plan and the sum of the new subordinate plans.  One key point was that the Butler Ranch North project can’t be built without the Rio Wrangler North being approved.

The NAB has a limited role to inform residents of plans in the Ward and also to convey feedback to the Planning Commission regarding public input.  The Planning Commission will hear the Butler Ranch North project on either April 3 or April 17.  The South Meadows West and Rio Wrangler North II projects will go to the Planning Commission on April 17.  Residents can express themselves by attending these meetings.  Alternately, they can contact their Planning Commissioner Peter Gower.  The NAB and the developer are requesting feedback with their project review form.  This will be used to inform the developer and the Planning Commission, but may not be as effective as contacting Peter Gower or other planning commissioners directly.