Triple-header at City Hall

Reno, Sparks and Washoe County come together in the spirit of joyous cooperation

This three-dimensional model of a new Reno Municipal Courts building brings joy to the hearts of law enforcement officers.

This three-dimensional model of a new Reno Municipal Courts building brings joy to the hearts of law enforcement officers.

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District Attorney Richard Gammick seems quite happy with the new courthouse plans as he stands outside the Reno City Council Chambers with the three-dimensional scale model, artist renderings and carpet samples. He’s positively beaming as he points out the building’s various amenities on the displays, a sight that those who come before him aren’t often treated to.

A few yards away, members of the Reno and the Sparks city councils and the Washoe County Board of Commissioners gathered at the somewhat cramped and threatened council table for a joint meeting to discuss items that have slowly percolated on the regional back burner. These are issues that will, in some ways, move the Truckee Meadows into the future: the Reno-Washoe County Courthouse, flood control projects and parks agency consolidation.

After formalities—the Pledge of Allegiance, roll call and minutes approval—the meeting began with excoriations, tears and hopes, as several Reno residents expressed their opinions.

“I want the Reno City Council to revisit the disconjerkulatated [decision] to make every street in Reno a truck route,” said one Reno citizen, after welcoming the new council members. “I hope you’ll be more honest and honorable than the previous council, and I guess that won’t be too hard.”

The officials looked upon Sam Dehne with a certain amount of condescension, maybe even fond forbearance, a tack that has just got to drive him crazy. It may be a sign of Reno Mayor Bob Cashell’s new regime and a kinder gentler City Council that nobody said anything mean to the gadfly.

When David Smith broke down in tears at the lectern, the officials appeared more concerned. Smith is widely known in political circles hereabouts, and his emotional reprimand of the council must have plucked some guilty chords, as people seated at the table studied the deplorable condition of the ceiling.

“I think last week’s election of the vice-mayor was appalling,” he said. “Women can do more than have babies. I think it’s appalling that all these males cannot honor these [tenured] women.”

It was a tough act to follow, but James W. Calkins, the subject of last week’s main RN&R news story, took up the standard, encouraging members of the Reno City Council and Washoe County Commission to take a close look at vehicle access to Peavine Mountain, while Commissioner Jim Galloway filled the water glasses of his neighbors at the table. Calkins also recommended the public turn out for the Nov. 26 County Commission meeting regarding moving the “congested area” boundaries. (Last week, due to a writer’s error, the date listed for the commission’s vote was incorrect. To reiterate, the meeting is scheduled for Nov. 26).

On to the main events.

Paul Urban, Washoe County flood control manager, introduced a plan that will essentially take the first concrete steps toward protecting Reno and Sparks from experiencing another flood like the Flood of 1997.

There are two main parts to the plan: first, purchase land as it becomes available (some is now) and, second, do some projects before the lion’s share of the flood funding is appropriated at the federal level in 2004.

Essentially, since many of the areas that will be impacted by flood mitigation have been identified, the plan is to buy property using money generated by the one-eighth cent sales tax that was approved by the Washoe County Commission in 1998. There is about $8.5 million in the bank from the sales tax.

The second part of the plan, early projects, will probably be stickier. The plan presented at the joint meeting promoted only one early project: the replacement of a floodwall on the Truckee River between Sierra and Virginia streets.

This plan is stickier, because it dooms the historic Virginia Street bridge, although this de facto condemnation was not discussed at the meeting. The plan is to construct an eight-foot cement wall on the north side of the river, which will at minimum affect the view on Truckee River Lane. The reason for this is simple, Galloway said after the meeting. While federal money won’t pay to repair the Virginia Street bridge, it will pay for a new bridge.

The destruction of the bridge, which was built in 1905, is too high a cost, Galloway said. He believes there are better solutions, like a series of stepped flood walls (similar to the West Street Plaza) that would neither destroy the bridge nor ruin the view.

The commission is required to vote on any projects that use the eighth-cent sales tax. When the commission discusses this particular proposal, Reno City Councilwoman Toni Harsh will no doubt have something to say. She won her 2000 election to the council on the heels of her battle against the destruction of another historic artifact, the Mapes Hotel.

The next item on the program was the Reno Municipal Courts/District Attorney Building, which will eventually be constructed on the old Pioneer Casino site on Virginia Street. It was a bad-news, good-news scenario, with members of the Tate Snyder Kimsey architectural firm offering the intelligence.

It seems that the best construction estimates have the project, as designed, about $1.8 million over budget. The overrun costs are divided between the city and the county, but the architects found “value engineering” savings that bring the total overage down to about $1 million.

The architects also suggest joining the two buildings, which, while it will cost another $1 million more in the short term, will save money in the long term. The architects also found that the joining of the buildings, “collocation” in architect talk, will offer a savings of $3.5 million in operational savings.

The joint body decided to send the courthouse out for construction bids with two caveats. If the bids come in at more than $25,608,100, then the project will come back to the table for either upping the project’s funding or sending it out to be rebid. Assuming the bids come in under $25.6 million, this will allow a 5 percent contingency fund.

Reno City Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza was somewhat put off that the city’s cost for the project had increase from $11 million when the plan was first undertaken.

“The price of this project keeps escalating,” she said.

“I think when we first started this, it was about $10 million,” Reno City Manager Charles McNeely said.

Reno’s portion is now more than $15.3 million of the $34.5 million total cost.

The final part of the triple header: Gary Goelitz of the company Maximus presented an argument regarding consolidation of the Reno, Sparks and Washoe County park maintenance divisions.

Goelitz said his company would be “hard pressed” to recommend the consolidation of the maintenance divisions, since the cost savings would be only about $200,000.

Goelitz complained that the scope of the evaluation—combining maintenance divisions—was too small. He said that the consolidation of the county and cities parks and recreation departments has a potential cost savings of half a million dollars to be spread through the jurisdictions.

Discussion was tabled on the matter until next month’s joint meeting of the Reno and Sparks city councils and the Washoe County Commission.

The sometimes uncooperative teams then adjourned, returning to their home stadiums, as the Reno City Council prepared to attack the dilemma of the dysfunctional council table.