Redevelopment without an added bureaucracy

by Dan Steninger


longtime-favorite topic of conversation outside of Nevada's population centers is how things have gone downhill since some harebrained U.S. Supreme Court justices came up with that "one man, one vote" hooey in the 1960s. The decision brought an end to the good old days, when those living in the sticks had a comfortable 15-2 edge in the Nevada Senate, despite being a definite minority outside the halls of the legislature—and the rural counties had a bit more sway on matters of state than they currently enjoy.

Examples of how those times were superior to the present can be recited by anyone in these parts over the age of 45 or so. Suffice to say, there were no proposals in the legislature back then to "correct" such "inequities" as renters having unequal footing with their landlords; and brand inspectors outnumbered welfare workers.

But we'd like to depart from that line of thought on this occasion: Instead of passing along local complaints of lunacy wafting up from Las Vegas, we'll take this opportunity to pass along our thanks. Not for any good ideas crafted there, but for the implementation of a bad one: redevelopment.

As every private-school student knows, our various levels of government have the power of eminent domain, with which private property can be taken for public use, contingent on just compensation to the owner of the private property. Less well known is the power our governments have given themselves to condemn private property for private use.

Eminent domain wasn't much of a problem back when it was used for such purposes as condemning a few houses to make way for a new road to serve the public. But with the invention of redevelopment agencies—a tool for the politically connected to get their hands on the property of the less-well connected—governments started snapping up private land not for schools, but in the case of Las Vegas, for a parking garage to serve the needs of the big casinos.

It seems the poor, struggling casino barons eking out a living on Fremont Street—seeing no other hope for salvation—managed to persuade that city's redevelopers to snatch up "blighted" downtown property (blighted to the tune of being worth millions of dollars) and give it to the casinos, all for the effort of "saving" Glitter Gulch from its imminent demise.

Those who weren't taking part in this looting, however, had the feeling these casinos would survive one way or another; and the owners just figured it would be a whole lot easier if they could get the mayor of Las Vegas to condemn the property they coveted than it would be to deal with the properties' owners. They probably were right.

Thanks to the rulings of Clark County District Judge Don Chairez, the seizure of Fremont Street property by the casinos has been thrown into some doubt -- as much doubt as can be mustered that Bob Rose, Cliff Young and company will rule in favor of the widowed Greek immigrant whose life work was demolished to make way for that new parking garage the casinos wanted built, or the casinos themselves.

Regardless, the antics of the redevelopers in Clark County gave us something to write about when redevelopment reared its ugly head in Elko. Elko, for those who haven't been here lately, is about as blighted as The Strip. Not as flashy, but boasting a vibrant economy nonetheless. But having a healthy, growing tax base, as we all know, rarely satisfies the overseers of the public trough. They can gather twice last year's collections and still, somehow, spend it all before they get around to filling in the potholes.

Now, our bureaucrats are less sophisticated than those in the big cities, so they saw redevelopment not as a way to reward their friends (that would come later) but as a way to pay for the things the public was demanding—sidewalks, street lights, patched streets, etc.—without actually having to cut back in other areas that seemed to be draining the treasury. The plan was to freeze the general fund's share of tax revenue from the redevelopment district and siphon off any increase in revenues from the district to pay for those items we mentioned above.

The plan made no sense whatsoever. The redevelopment agency was planning to take taxes that otherwise would have gone into street repair, siphon it off, juggle it around, and then spend it on street repair. It was pointed out that if this were such a great idea, the City of Sparks, which had implemented the scheme years ago, would not be asking its voters to approve millions of dollars worth of bonds to pay for basic services.

Still, our city councilmen forged ahead with the creation of a redevelopment agency, believing it would somehow create tax revenues where they hadn't existed before.

Coming up on the June election, and prior to the drawing of a redevelopment district, one councilman started raising questions about redevelopment. He was met with a challenge from the main backer of redevelopment, a woman who also served on the city planning commission.

The councilman who started having second thoughts about redevelopment won 65 percent of the vote; his challenger, 27 percent. And, oddly, all those things the redevelopment agency was going to buy for us—the new sidewalks and street lights—started appearing on the council's agenda, and winning funding from the board.

It looks as if redevelopment in Elko—the bureaucratic kind—is going to have to await a more "progressive" group of voters.

And for that turnaround, we have the heavy-handed redevelopers running roughshod over our fellow residents in Las Vegas to thank.

So, thanks. u

Dan Steninger is Editorial Page Editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


Journal front | Search | Comment | Sponsors