Don’t expect 2012 to rank on anyone’s list of great years for development. I really don’t see much of significance on the horizon. But that is not to say that there aren’t some things happening, issues of major regional importance that need to be faced, and some projects to keep on your radar.
Regional Fire Services – Sparks went from 4 to 3 man crews in order to live within their means. Reno’s fire union and city council have steadfastly stuck to 4 man crews, browning out stations to try to stay within budget instead. Truckee Meadows and Sierra fire districts are staffed by Reno firemen under a long-term contract including the Reno standard 4 man crews, but can no longer afford that expense. They are combining in July and will staff with flexible 2, 3 and 4 man crews after lengthy negotiations with Reno went absolutely nowhere. Reno (Cashell, Aiazzi) is throwing hissy fits pointing out the “donut holes” in the new district’s coverage, while conveniently ignoring their own donut holes such as their Verdi annexations all the way to Gold Ranch on the border.
Just about everyone (except maybe Sparks residents) agrees that a regional fire response system is not only desirable but critical. I think this will all work out in the end – all the fire districts truly have the public’s safety as their foremost concern. But Reno is going to have to come to terms with how incredibly out of step they have become, and renegotiate their fire union contracts to meet financial reality. And maybe take a look at their top heavy administrative structure while they are at it.
Reno / Washoe Wars – The fire situation was the first poison in the relationship between Reno and Washoe. The current skirmish over Reno Redevelopment funds is making things worse. The formula for how much Washoe needs to contribute to the Reno Redevelopment Agency (RDA) was miscalculated. Reno thought they hit the jackpot, and kept pushing the county beyond what the county admitted they owed, and it looked like things were going to get legal fast. The latest wrinkle is that a portion of the area included in the Redevelopment District (Reno Increment Area) sunsetted in 2007 and Washoe didn’t catch it and has been overpaying to the RDA. So far, the county isn’t pushing for retro-active reimbursement from Reno, but it is certainly a veiled threat.
The constant cat fighting and sniping and finger pointing is serving neither Reno or Washoe well. It has got to end if we all want to constructively face our shared future. And hopefully, someone is now minding the store about who knows who what and to whom. It’s been embarrassing.
Reno Bond Debt – Unless the bond holders play nice, Reno is toast. There are big renegotiations coming up this year. I’m the first to concede that the economy went in some unexpected directions, but Reno’s bond debt is sucking the city dry. The train trench was, in my opinion, a worthwhile expense. But the Events Center, Ballroom, old RTC station property, and even the Aces Stadium? Come on.
CommRow – Sort of ties into the bond debt issue, since the old Fitz Garage was HELOC’d by the city to the max and is part of the bond renegotiations. If CR fails to execute their option to purchase the land under the garage from the city, it will be just another wrench in the gears. Watching CR take shape and open has been like watching old Spanky and Our Gang reruns. It is hard to imagine just how bad you have to imagine and operate a project to have it go into triage and life support after only 90 days. But I include CR on my watch list since I think it is important that it succeeds in some form, and in fact some elements of the project have been very (if unexpectedly) successful. The key investor has a pretty good track record, and hopefully the fire power he is bringing in will turn the tide.
Virginia Street Bridge – First off, no one has ever put forward a convincing argument to me that the bridge replacement needs to include vehicles. Second, the early planning process has been completely hijacked by “historical resources groups” and any sort of creative solutions were eliminated early on. Read the web site for the project and weep at what we are getting. Third, this bridge is only one of I think 6 that need to be replaced – Booth , Arlington, Sierra, Virginia, Center and Lake Streets. There is no “envisioning” of what the end game will look like. The bridge project needs a time out.
The East End – Out of nowhere, the east side of Reno has become a hotly contested development zone. The last link of the South East Connector is getting flak again. A good and needed project, in the wrong place due to inter-county politics, but probably the best that we can do. Rosewood Lakes golf course, which the RTC is buying half of for the project. This is a windfall for the Reno general fund, but Reno seems destined to blow the money on reestablishing the money losing golf course to 18 holes. UNR rezoning a part of the University Farms for commercial development in the future. Reasonable in my opinion. Wolfpack Meats. UNR owns it and wants to close it to stem the financial bleed. But WPM is a unique USDA slaughter and packaging rated facility that supports local and regional small businesses, and is enabling much of the culinary rebirth downtown. There are real questions here about the University’s role and responsibility in and to the community. Anyway, a zone to watch in 2012.
Regional Plan Update – Every 5 years, the Regional Plan gets an update. The plan governs the sphere of influence and annexation schedules and policies, and regional goals and objectives. The 2002 update directed that 30% of all development occur within the McCarran loop, and you can see how that turned out. 2007 was big on TODs – Transit Oriented Development – with zoning bonuses along designated mass transit corridors. There has been ZERO development bumps to date due to these policies. In this revision, the TODs are being questioned (seriously, Gold Ranch is part of the W 4th Street TOD?). I would hope that annexation and growth policies responsible for police, fire and infrastructure costs that are not sustainable are addressed. This is one you are going to really have to work at to influence, but is vitally important.
Midtown – The accelerating redevelopment of the Midtown / California Avenue district has been pretty extraordinary. These areas actively campaigned NOT to be included in a Redevelopment district, and are developing organically with great success. The first of 21 retail structures in Carterville at SVA and Thoma will go up this year, catering to small, locally owned businesses. There is a critical mass developing there that is a model for other redeveloping areas.
Park Lane Mall Site – Just seeing if you are still awake! Something needs to happen there before it becomes a Federally protected wildlife refuge for our avian friends. Replacing antiquated retail with strip mall retail just doesn’t seem right, especially on this site that really IS in a TOD zone. I’d like it to at least move in a mixed use direction with a major housing component. But what I really want to see included is a major ice center. Hockey / figure skating sheets which this region deserves. Have you seen how cool short track is? But I would up the ante and include a “long track” facility for speed skating. As far as I know, the only 400 meter indoor long tracks in the US are in Salt Lake (Kearns) from the Olympics, and West Allis, Wisconsin, where super stars like Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair trained. Lake Placid and Roseville, MN have seasonal outdoor tracks. What better way to show the IOC that we are serious about hosting an Olympics than to get at least a start on a venue? Reno has become a biking Mecca, and biking and speed skating are closely aligned. Dumb idea?
Tax Reform – Does anyone agree with our property tax structure in NV (except IV residents)? It’s WACK, and no place in the world has a similar tax structure. It’s probably time to tax services like architects, hair stylists, programmers, and the whole knowledge economy who use civic services but don’t fiscally contribute in parity to it. Internet sales tax is a no brainer – bring it on. State Income Tax? Ain’t ever going to happen so I won’t even speculate on it, but it probably should be at least considered. The reason I bring up the issue is that it is something everyone agrees has to change, but only gets attention during legislative sessions every 2 years, and nothing will ever change there. Someone needs to step forward during this non-session year and try to work through meaningful and workable proposals for the way we fund our state and local governments. The chances of that happening are probably slimmer that an international ice center at Park Lane!
So that’s my watch list for 2012, and I’ve probably missed key issues and projects. So what do you think of the items facing us in 2012? Are you willing to get informed and stay informed and get involved to make a difference? Any topics you would like a more detailed report about? As REeno moves onto its next phase, let’s get the discussion going.