for Washoe County
Stop: The Washoe County Lands Bill (WCPLB)The purpose of the WCLB is to provide a mechanism whereby certain isolated parcels of Federal Land, most of controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, can be transferred to private ownership through an auction process, thus removing non-preforming assets from the federal books and monetizing the assets, providing continuity of land parcels in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area and providing a future source of development for a growing Truckee Meadows.
It is a very bad bill as written and I won’t support it.
Notwithstanding that fact that the two cities and Washoe County have to agree on the details of this Bill, it will take an Act of Congress to implement this Bill. To further confuse the issue, and to placate certain constituencies, the Bill addresses the more than 600,000 acres in northern Washoe County that could become Wilderness Areas, or National Conservation Lands, under this Bill.
I have listed the acres and designations that were presented at a February 14th, 2018 meeting that I attended at the Nevada Farm Bureau offices. This meeting was chaired by the Washoe County lobbyist. Two County Commissioners and several congressional staffers attended.
Wilderness Lands:178,807 acres
Sheldon National Wildlife Reserve168,746 acres
National Conservation Lands (NCA)48,212 acres
Total: 395,765 acres
Proposed New Wilderness Lands 175,075 acres
Proposed New NCA Lands 83,324 acres
Total 258,399 acres
Grand Total 654,164 acres
This total does not include other “Areas with Critical Environmental Concerns”, a term as yet undefined.
The Federal Government, in 1991, recommended that about 191,000 acres of northern Washoe County lands currently designated as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) would qualify for Wilderness Classification. These lands in question are contiguous to the Truckee Meadows, but are in Northern Washoe County and go all the way to the Oregon border. The participants of this meeting were the ORV Open Trails representatives, the ranching community representatives, the Nevada Mining Association, the mineral exploration communities and others (meetings between the County and environmental groups were held prior to this meeting). As a group, these organizations agreed that 191,000 of designated Wilderness, as defined by the Federal study, was fair and reasonable.
Washoe County held two Public Hearings, April 24th on the economic impacts of the Bill and April 26th on the Wilderness Aspects of the Bill. The first meeting was attended by about 300 people. While that meeting was supposed to address economic impacts, most questions concerned having more Wilderness. The second meeting was attended by about 700 people. It was a more diverse audience and some questions about economic impacts were asked and answered.
The County presentation included maps, but even after the April 26th hearing, the maps were modified again. The more informative maps, showing original 1985 WSAs and the 1991 recommendations, were presented by outside groups.
As some have suggested, the Bill should not be presented as an omnibus, but rather two separate bills. It makes fiscal sense to transfer the checkerboard parcel from federal to state or local ownership, but this bill is not the way to do it.
Housing in Washoe CountyI watched the construction of the MGM Grand Hotel and six other casinos over the course of two years in the late 1970s, which transformed what was once a sleepy western town into a boomtown. As a single young geologist who had never owned a home, I sensed that if I didn’t act then, I would never be able to afford to own a home. I was right. Housing prices in Washoe County have repeated this cycle of boom and bust many times since then, and affordability of housing for the average family has not improved.
It is extremely important that the cities of Reno and Sparks coordinate their efforts with Washoe County in addressing anticipated explosive growth generated by the new business developments situated along USA Parkway in Storey County. Additional housing needs to be constructed in an expedient and sensible manner, but not at the expense of destroying the values that attract people to Nevada in the first place. The importance of the presence of wild horses to the businesses in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Park is a prime example.
Fiscal responsibility from Washoe CountyEven the most fiscally conservative budget can have duplication of services and that is the first area to look for sources of excess revenue that can be spent on infrastructure. There needs to be a serious, collegial effort between the three entities to see where we could be more efficient
Fix and improve transportation infrastructureWashoe County can only fix and improve what it controls. The 1-80 corridor, including the Spaghetti Bowl, is the Federal government’s responsibility and it would take years to get approval to make changes along the Truckee River canyon. One topic that has been mentioned, but little discussed, is the investigation into the feasibility of light rail. A portion of the rail bed of the California Oregon and Nevada Railway, a narrow gauge railway that was constructed from Alturas, CA to Reno, still exists. The narrow gauge was eventually replaced by standard gauge in 1923 and today, much of that former rail bed is utilized by Western Pacific.
Some may say that the population of the Truckee Meadows is not ready for light rail, that they value their independence to travel at their leisure and they value having privacy on their morning drive to work. It’s only when that morning commute, say from Cold Springs south on US 395, through the Spaghetti Bowl to I-80 East to the US Parkway, takes three hours, that minds may be changed.
Improve local government efficiencyI have often thought that it would by more productive if, once every three months or so, a county commissioner would meet with fifty or so of his/her constituents, rather than the fifty constituents having to travel to meet and hear one commissioner. Furthermore, I think that in the case of District 2, there could be three of four of these town halls where Washoe County facilities exist and are conveniently located. As I see it, these meetings would be formatted by my providing an overview of previous agenda items that people may have missed, a preview of coming issues of concern to the council (unless such concerns are proprietary in nature) and in return, look for feedback and suggestions from the attendees.
I want to emphasize that town hall meetings are not the same as public hearings. Public hearings tend to happen when big problems have already occurred. At public hearings, you will hear where to go in an emergency, where to pick up bottled water, etc. Public hearings are sometimes pretty raucous. Town halls meetings can be as well, of course, but I think they serve a real purpose in bringing policy issues directly to the people who have given us their trust to work on their behalf.
Improve Fire ServicesPrevious, well-meaning efforts to improve fire services have met with some success, but we need to build on those successes, not back away because of protocol.
Truckee Meadows Fire Department and the Reno Fire Department agreed in 2016 is settle litigation issues. In February of this year, the city of Sparks and Washoe County also entered into a limited EMS agreement. We do not have a large population base. Washoe County has a total population of about 470,000 as of June 2018. More than 95% of that population lives in the Truckee Meadows and North Valleys. It would seem to make common sense to see where there are areas we could reduce costs and improve response times..
Open and frequent constituent communicationIn addition to my web-site, my listed personal cell-phone and my e-mail address, you can contact me during business hours, or leave a message at my place of work, on a 24/7 basis.
Build Concensus for sensible growthA community that builds consensus among government and private industry is a community that works. Washoe County is about to enter a period of unprecedented growth. I am committed to bringing my skills in business, finance and groundwater science to assist Washoe County to be the premier county entity in the Western United States.