|Sunday, Sep 21, 2014, 07:05:48 AM|
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The son also rises
By Geoff Schumacher
You know that headline on the cover, "The Mayor of the Strip"? It may be clever and all, but it's not very accurate. Sure, Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid's District G encompasses the bustling south end of the Strip, but that doesn't mean much. The Strip, as Reid readily admits, basically runs itself. The multibillion-dollar corporations that own and operate the megaresorts are pretty good at what they do, and they don't need a whole lot of input from the County Commission to get it done. "I don't wake up in the middle of the night worrying about whether we are a great tourist destination," Reid says.
But the headline does raise an intriguing issue. The city of Las Vegas doesn't include the Strip, nor does its boundaries include most of the metropolitan area south of Sahara Avenue. So Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who gets all the press, has no say-so over the Strip. That's why you see him shaking hands with drunks on Fremont Street on New Year's Eve, not mixing with the smashed masses on Las Vegas Boulevard South.
The County Commission is the political power in the vast unincorporated stretches south of Sahara Avenue, but the board doesn't have a figurehead like the city does. The commission chairmanship, which Reid assumed earlier this month, is primarily a parliamentary post and it rotates every two years, so it's difficult for an individual commissioner to build the name recognition that Mayor Goodman enjoys--unless, of course, that commissioner is caught on tape taking bribes from a nudie club owner.
Unlike his predecessor in District G, Dario Herrera, Rory Reid isn't likely to be found anywhere near a strip club, so he's not going to gain that kind of notoriety anytime soon. And he doesn't have the loud, loquacious personality that keeps Goodman in the news. But Reid has quietly risen from a political newbie to one of Southern Nevada's most respected government leaders.
Fathers and sons
Rory Reid, 42, has to deal with famous-dad syndrome. His father is Harry Reid, Nevada's senior senator, who recently became the U.S. Senate's minority leader, placing him in the top echelon of Washington, D.C., power brokers. Besides all the backroom wheeling and dealing that this job entails, it means Rory Reid has a hard time turning on the TV without seeing his father spouting off on one issue or another. Sometimes it's comical: Before a recent taping of a public radio talk show, Reid made a restroom stop, only to hear his dad's voice (speaking to a reporter) thrumming over the station's loudspeaker.
But Rory Reid doesn't get too excited about this issue. He can't control who is father is. He may have benefited from some built-in name recognition when he ran for the County Commission in 2002, but now that he's in office he has an array of political goals that don't have much connection to his father's machinations 3,000 miles away.
Reid's office in the Clark County Government Center is adorned with pictures of him standing with the Democratic Party elite: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, even that commie pinko Martin Sheen. But while Reid has been embroiled in partisan battles in the past as head of the Nevada Democratic Party, he's pleased to report that his County Commission work is largely free of party politics. "Potholes aren't partisan," he says. "Most of the issues we deal with aren't partisan."
Growth or consequences
Reid's top priority is getting a handle on Southern Nevada growth. Growth is one of those things that everybody has an opinion on, but nobody actually does anything about. Reid intends to do something about it.
When he campaigned for office, growth was on the minds of his future constituents. Their impression was that growth was out of control, and no one was doing anything about it. At that time, Reid suspected his constituents might be right, but as a pragmatic sort, he wanted to do some research first. He wanted to create a "formal mechanism" to analyze what, in fact, was being done and what could be done better.
So, Reid, along with Commissioners Bruce Woodbury and Mark James (who has since left office), created the Growth Task Force last year. This 17-member volunteer board, made up of people from all walks of life, is holding meetings and taking input from experts and citizens on all facets of growth. They talk about water, traffic, zoning, housing, parks, taxes--basically everything that affects the quality of life in Southern Nevada. It's often tedious work. If you're having trouble sleeping, just turn on a task force meeting on cable Channel 4 and you'll soon be passed out on the couch.
Reid, however, is optimistic that the task force's efforts will yield results. "I believe an honest debate leads to discovery," he says, sounding like a young (though much thinner) Benjamin Franklin.
The plan is for the task force to settle on a set of recommendations and deliver them to the County Commission in April. The commission then will ponder the task force's ideas and decide whether they're any good--or, perhaps more accurately, whether they are politically palatable.
This much is certain: The Growth Task Force is not going to recommend stopping growth. That point was made clear early on, when a study was presented suggesting calamitous economic effects of shutting off the bulldozers and sending the developers back to Phoenix. The task force isn't going to recommend slowing growth either. That, too, is generally seen as a draconian measure that would cripple key industries and generally make things worse instead of better. The task force no doubt lost some community support when those two prospects were so quickly yanked off the table. Nevertheless, the task force has forged ahead, and it is expected to lay out a string of proposals aimed at making Las Vegas a somewhat nicer and slightly more orderly place to live.
Jane Feldman, conservation chair of the Sierra Club's Southern Nevada group, sits on the Growth Task Force. She is enthused about the progress the task force has made, but she doesn't want citizens to expect miracles. "Most of the changes we have to make with growth management are very long-term actions, and I don't think we can expect anything dramatic to happen quickly," she says. "Having said that, I think we're making some really significant moves in the right direction."
Feldman acknowledges that slowing growth was never on the task force's agenda, despite polls showing strong support for growth controls. While she thought the report showing catastrophic effects of slowing growth was "very extreme," she's come to the conclusion that managing growth is more realistic than slowing it.
Movin' on up
The panel's work has already led to one new growth management tool. Earlier this month, the County Commission approved a new ordinance governing mixed-use developments such as high-rise condos and urban villages in which residential and commercial projects are blended together. The ordinance sets height and density guidelines and establishes four areas where these mixed-use developments should go in the valley. "This ordinance will help us map out the future of growth in our community," Reid says. "The commission saw the need to develop this ordinance because we're asked to make decisions on mixed-use projects at almost every zoning board meeting."
While the new ordinance no doubt will be helpful to the commission and to the developers who want to build these projects--not so long ago, mixed-use projects would have been summarily rejected as untenable--it isn't the kind of thing the public is likely to embrace as a decisive blow against sprawl or traffic congestion. It's inside baseball, for the most part.
Still, it's a start. Reid is concerned that the public expects more from the Growth Task Force than it can deliver. "Managing expectations" is something he's thinking about, emphasizing that there's "no magic wand to wave" to solve the ill effects of growth.
Reid also has been thinking a lot lately about how Las Vegas must change as it grows. He's become an advocate of more urbanized development. It's inevitable, he believes, that cities start building up instead of out. For years, Las Vegas built out exclusively, with everybody feeling entitled to half an acre and a rambling ranch house. Sprawl actually was the law of the land; high-rises and mixed-use projects were verboten in most parts of the valley. That, however, is not the future. "Our menu is not complete," Reid explains. "We can't continue to limit the choices people have and mature as a city."
But Reid isn't the guy to ask if you want an image of what a more urbanized Las Vegas should look like. He can't readily cite neighborhoods in other cities that strike his fancy. When pressed, he mentions that The District, the urban village adjacent to Green Valley Ranch Station in Henderson, might be a prototype.
The challenge, he says, is to make places like The District attractive to people with children. For the most part, parents with children have not been the target market for high-rises near the Strip and downtown, but Reid believes that could change. "It may require a paradigm shift," but he says people will be attracted to developments where they can live, work and play in one place, thus reducing all the driving we have to do now.
The rail deal
Another crucial element of this urban future is mass transit. Reid supports the commuter rail project, which would traverse the valley on 33 miles of Union Pacific track from Henderson to North Las Vegas. Reid says we can't increase Citizens Area Transit ridership--people just won't take the bus if they can afford to own a car. But the commuter rail is different--a viable, convenient alternative for workers weary of traffic jams and gasoline bills. "It could change our town in a positive way," Reid says. "It's a key component of sustaining our quality of life." He notes that mixed-use developments are likely to spring up along the rail line. "People will want to live along that line," he says.
The commuter rail will cost somewhere between $300 million and $800 million, depending on what technology is used. "It's real expensive but the costs of not doing it are expensive, too," Reid says.
Houses and water
Remember last year, when housing prices shot up for no apparent reason? Some people were pretty happy about it. They put their houses up for sale and collected some sweet equity. Things eventually settled down, but the lingering impact is an average local home price that is no longer what you'd call affordable.
Housing affordability is a vital element of our quality of life in Las Vegas, Reid says. "Everybody recognizes this as a problem," he says. But what, if anything, can be done about it is a tough question. Offering financial incentives for builders to keep home prices low seems to be the leading idea. The Growth Task Force is working on it, Reid says, and is likely to have some recommendations.
Reid is something of a water convert since getting elected and becoming a member of the Southern Nevada Water Authority board. (He's fallen under the powerful spell of water czar Pat Mulroy, no doubt.) Nowadays, he doesn't believe the valley's growth should be tied to the finite amount of water we get from the Colorado River. "We need to find water," he says. "We need to plan for the future. If we say we're done growing, we can't say it's because there's no more water."
The availability of water, he says, is based on what we're willing to pay for it. We have plans to pipe groundwater in from rural Nevada, and we're putting together agreements with other states to tap their unused resources (a deal has already been inked with Arizona). Down the road, Reid sees the possibility of desalinating ocean water and paying Southern California farmers not to irrigate their crops.
Baseball and ballet
Mayor Goodman is the self-declared point man in the effort to bring a major league baseball team to Las Vegas. Goodman is probably the right guy for the job--he's willing to travel around with an Elvis impersonator and a couple of showgirls constantly in tow--but he has an ulterior motive: He wants the team's stadium to be built in downtown Las Vegas.
But it's not clear that downtown is the best place for a major league stadium. Could be a traffic nightmare, right? Maybe someplace farther south, closer to the Strip, might be better? Maybe it ought to be in Henderson.
Shrewdly, Reid doesn't take the bait when asked whether a stadium should be built downtown or somewhere else. First, he says it's too early to make such a specific decision. "We're still in the feeling-out stage of the dance," he says. "Ultimately we'll have a debate about where."
The same goes with funding. It's too early to say whether the public should partially fund stadium construction, he says.
Las Vegas could bungle the whole deal at this early stage if we start fighting among ourselves about such matters, he says. Late last year, Washington, D.C., almost scuttled its long-sought baseball franchise when members of its city council began squabbling over stadium funding.
Reid is more comfortable talking about the performing arts center slated for downtown. He's a supporter. "We need to develop culturally," he says. The state Legislature has given the County Commission the authority to charge a small fee on rental cars, with the revenue going to build the performing arts center. The commission is expected to vote on the issue soon.
Rory Reid is the anti-Goodman. That's not a knock on Oscar, who seems to have the perfect persona for the city's particular needs. But Reid's down-to-earth demeanor seems like the right approach just now for a County Commission that in recent years has suffered mightily from members severely lacking in ethics and integrity. Herrera, Erin Kenny and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, all caught up in the G-Sting federal corruption probe, are gone, and Reid heads a new crop of county decision-makers. They still have their problems, but today's commissioners get along with each other, and they seem to have their constituents' best interests at heart.
That's a refreshing change, according to Growth Task Force member Feldman. "Rory is willing to think outside the box," she says. "There are going to be some hard decisions and I don't think he's afraid of those hard decisions."
Reid can take at least partial credit for the commission's transformation. And he's just getting started.