Candidates don’t talk much about coping
In 1978, in a spectacularly bad example of local planning, six casinos opened in Reno within weeks of each other. These included the massive MGM Grand Hotel—now Grand Sierra Resort—which became a symbol of the resulting deterioration of Reno’s quality of life.
Publicity of the hotel boom across the nation brought numerous job seekers into Reno. The newcomers could work as many jobs as they wanted, but soon there was no place to live. People were living in their cars or at roadside rests on Interstate 80 or on dirt roads outside the city proper. If they were able to find housing, the rents were sky high. A bond issue had to be rushed through to expand the suddenly strained sewage treatment plant. Traffic overwhelmed existing configurations. Developers bought up laundromats to get the water connections.
As it happened, 1978 was also the year of a governor’s race in Nevada, and both Democrat Robert Rose and Republican Robert List addressed the difficulties the Truckee Meadows faced during the campaign.
When the election was over and winning Republican Robert List took office, he established a Commission on the Future of Nevada to address some of the problems raised by the negative effects of growth.
In 2018, however, the candidates have barely mentioned the failings of the state’s economic development efforts and the unfavorable impact of Tesla and other sudden large workforces on Washoe County’s quality of life.
Neither Democrat Steve Sisolak nor Republican Adam Laxalt have offered much about how they would deal with high rents and the unavailability of housing in Washoe. The National Association of Realtors in February ranked Reno second only to San Jose in the rate of home price increases.
After Laxalt issued a paper on economic development, the Republican Governors’ Association—which is trying to get Laxalt elected in Nevada—put out a news release that quoted the Nevada Independent: “Sisolak, his general election opponent, has not released a similarly detailed economic development plan.”
Perhaps the best response to that is, “Neither has Laxalt.” What the Republican nominee has called his economic development plan is not a bit detailed. It is 737 words long, about as long as a high school essay. The section on housing is 42 words long, if the heading is included, and reads, in its entirety:
“Reduce barriers that limit Nevadans’ access to affordable houeing. Nevada’s housing market has seen marked volatility in recent years, but the state is again growing, and housing prices have soared to the point that affordability has been strained, particularly in Northern Nevada.”
If the barriers referenced are volatility and housing prices, the 42 words do not contain a hint of how Laxalt would deal with them. His paper describes the problem, not solutions.
And while education is mentioned more often (six times) in the plan, it never gets around to answering one of the principal questions that has been repeatedly raised during this campaign: How will Laxalt both repeal the commerce tax and keep education spending at the same level, both of which he has promised to do?
Nor have either Sisolak or Laxalt offered any sense of what guidelines they will follow when handling demands for corporate welfare to lure business. Sisolak seems to have a comfort level with the concept, given his support of the Raiders stadium, but Laxalt has not provided even that much information on his stance.
Lance Gilman, owner of Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) where Tesla is based and a GOP Storey county commissioner, has endorsed Sisolak, which may send a message all its own. Gilman was involved in luring Tesla to TRIC in Storey County without showing much anxiety over the impact it would have on housing, traffic, sewage, water and other factors in neighboring counties, which are bedroom communities for Tesla workers.
Gilman told Ray Hagar in the Fernley Reporter that he considered Sisolak the logical successor to Gov. Brian Sandoval: “I can’t say enough about Sandoval and his support for us. Tesla is here because of Sandoval and his efforts, and supporting us … with Switch and even Google. And there is only one candidate in our opinion that has the appetite, commitment, capabilities and background to continue that financial investment and vision for economic diversification and growth. … Gov. Sandoval wanted a spokesman to bring in for the stadium in Las Vegas and the football team, the Raiders. So when that issue became an opportunity, it was Steve Sisolak that the governor selected to lead that committee to capture that opportunity.”
Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature were so desperate for the jobs Tesla would bring that they offered more corporate welfare than the corporation wanted while failing to insist on provisions for housing and other quality of life factors. It was much the way the 1970s Reno City Council asked only that the city animal shelter be moved and that public access to the river be preserved as the price of building the MGM.
No one could say the Truckee Meadows was not warned what was coming with Tesla. In 2015, a study commissioned by the Economic Planning Indicator Committee looked at the implications of projected local population growth by 2019 from 42,400 to 64,700.
Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada president and CEO Mike Kazmierski told the Reno Gazette Journal, “I actually think some of those numbers are conservative. We’re going to need 5,000 new homes each year and have to build new schools to support this growth.”
But local builders did not have the homes ready when the Tesla plant began operating. Far from it. Perry Di Loreto of Di Loreto Homes said, “I don’t believe we can build 5,000 homes each year.”
Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus said earlier this year, “That is a critique I have of [Gov. Brian] Sandoval—he did economic development on steroids to get the state out of the recession but ignored local government and school districts’ ability to accommodate growth propelled by his policies.”
She said she thought that growth impacts would be a major issue in this year’s governor’s race. They have not been.
List recalls that during his campaign for governor, he was asked about the impact of growth frequently enough that he cut a television commercial devoted to “growth and the impact it was having.” It was filmed at his family’s ranch in Washoe Valley, and at the end of the commercial he was leaning against a fence post and said, as he slammed the gate closed, “We’re going to close the gate on reckless development.”
“Growth and expansion of the community, demands for infrastructure was a big part of the campaign,” List said last week.In the photo caption, the print version of this article originally identified Neena Laxalt as Monique Laxalt. We apologize for the mistake.