Sanitary Potemkin

During the National League of Cities convention that was held in Reno last week, the local official wranglers of the delegates made sure their charges didn’t see the real Reno. The downtown was prettified, policed heavily, and the hookers and drug dealers shunted to other areas. Drug deals, normally a common sight in the downtown, were difficult to spot while the delegates held a workshop on methamphetamine. Even a publicity stunt in which municipal officials from other cities helped Habitat for Humanity build a Stead house hardly afforded the convention delegates an authentic look at the difficult lives of Reno’s low-income residents. A look at African-American history in Reno took delegates to the Lear Theatre but not to Glenn Duncan School.

Our argument is not with creating a little Potemkin village for visiting officials to see. What we worry about is that Reno officials are also isolated from the city’s reality, and that they are too willing to impress visitors instead of residents.

It’s 2006. With California tribal gambling eating away at Nevada gambling and the casino industry on a steady downward trend, the tourism industry is no longer the area’s hope. Local officials are now freer to run the city in the interest of locals instead of tourists, and they should take advantage of it. Virginia Street got a repaving for the League of Cities convention, something that was more needed on Montello Street or Carville Drive. A decade ago the downtown casinos were permitted to buy themselves additional police protection by forming a special tax district to fund police used only within that district unless there is an emergency. That kind of pampering of the tourism industry should end. For one thing, it gives lie to the industry’s claim that it can’t afford higher taxes. For another, police should be where they are needed, not where the rich and powerful pay to put them.

It’s time to start running this town for the residents. When the City Council or other governing bodies look at widening a street in a residential neighborhood, or installing wild waters in the Truckee, or adding a freeway ramp, or putting an aquarium project or amphitheater in Wingfield Park or holding a special event, they need to make locals the first concern and consider tourism needs only as they can have a positive effect on residents.

Locals pay the vast majority of taxes around here. We are the people who drive down Baghdad-styled, washboard streets or don’t get a visit from police when there’s been a garage broken into or a threatening panhandler on the streets. We are the people who wonder why our streets remain unrehabilitated when one street over has had two full rebuilds. We are the ones who get to try to explain to our relatives (many of them tourists) why they see drug deals made in downtown motels’ parking lots. Or why they should be afraid to walk down West Second Street on a weekend night.

Reno officials need to do something about drug dealers or bad streets or housing prices for the people of Reno, not for the officials of Roanoke. It’s our quality of life, not theirs.