Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Long Awaited Henderson Democratic Club Clark County Commission District G Debate!

(Also at Stonewall)

OK, I know I've been keeping you waiting for almost a week now. Sorry about that. As you can tell, I've been super busy! Yes, yes, and I took Thursday off.

Again, sorry about that. But hey, now we get to talk about the Clark County Commission! Many thanks to the Henderson Democratic Club for hosting this event last week and giving us a chance to get to know David Parks, Greg Esposito, Mary Beth Scow, and Ron Newell.

So what happened? If you follow Stonewall's Twitter page, you know. And if you couldn't, then let me recap it for you right here, without that pesky 140 character limit. ;-)

So let's start with who showed up. We had all four above mentioned Democratic candidates, plus the Chair of the local branch of the League of Women Voters to moderate. Oh yes, and a certain Las Vegas Sun columnist also dropped by to take it all in.

And while I can understand Mr. Ralston's frustration over the lack of specifics on some issues, I also have to give the candidates some credit for offering some ideas on some of the issues we really care about. So where did the drama begin?

Let's start with the first question on how Clark County government will survive with less revenue. County Planning Commission member Ron Newell answered by expressing his view that the county should "be run like a business" and that more county worker layoffs are absolutely necessary. Clark County School Board Trustee Mary Beth Scow, on the other hand, focused more on bringing in new revenue. While she did suggest streamlining county government, she also talked about raising more money for the county by bringing in new jobs in fashion, furniture, senior care, and putting in more and better requests for more federal stimulus dollars. State Senator David Parks also beat the drums for more economic diversification and local government consolidation. And finally, former Plumbers & Pipefitters (Union) Local 525 chief Greg Esposito also mentioned finding new ways to bring in new revenue as well as focusing more on community empowerment and letting neighborhoods take on their own problems (like graffiti).

The next question was about future population growth in Southern Nevada and how to handle it better (than these last 20 years of epic growth followed by epic meltdown). Mary Beth Scow reiterated the importance of enticing more senior citizens to move to Clark County to provide new opportunities for economic diversification. (I guess this means we'll soon need more doctors, nurses, and home health care workers.) She stated that just gaming & mining can't take care of us any more, so diversification is necessary. Now David Parks, on the other hand, addressed the continuing need for us to update our infrastructure, as well as completing infill development to fix "leap frog development" (aka places like Rhodes Ranch). Parks specifically addressed the need for better roads, more mass transit, more high-tech jobs, and more businessed relocating from the "poor business climate" of California (sorry, Cali). Now Greg Esposito expressed a little relief that growth is no longer too rapid and "now we have a chance to breathe". He stressed the importance of improving neighborhood parks, curbing excessive water usage, and encouraging more green building and overall more sustainable development including smarter transit options & closer employment centers. Ron Newell, meanwhile, showed support for slower growth, better planning, better infill plans, and getting long-planned public works projects up and running ASAP.

After that, the sparks really began to fly! Why, you ask? Oh, we got the question that's always on our minds: HOME RULE. David Parks was first to answer, and he expressed full support for Clark County home rule. He explained the precedent set by NV governed by Missouri's "Dillon's Rule", explaining that Clark County can do whatever state of Nevada says we can do... So if the state lets the county take more control of our tax dollars and chart our own course, it's completely legal and totally doable. Parks stated that home rule would be good for us because "government which is closest to the people is best for the people".

But interestingly, Parks turned out to be the only candidate to fully endorse home rule. Greg Esposito countered that we need to be careful what we wish for, as this needs to be studied first so the county can be aware of possible negative "unintended consequences". He even said that if done wrong, home rule can become our "Prop 13". (California's now infamous property tax initiative that has all but crippled the state.) Ron Newell and Mary Beth Scow both echoed Esposito's concern, but then veered in different directions. Newell focused on Clark County and again stressed consolidating local government, while Scow was a little more open to home rule (even if not endorsing it just yet) citing her experience with CCSD enduring many state "unfunded mandates", constant micromanaging, and state raids of CCSD funds (like this year's budget fiasco).

The next question moved onto the perpetually troubled UMC hospital and what the county should do about it. All candidates expressed praise for Rory Reid, former University of Nevada chief (and current KVBC-3 TV station owner) Jim Rogers, and Rogers' plan to make UMC a teaching hospital. And since all four essentially said the same thing, I'll leave it there. (On this issue, sadly, Jon Ralston was right that no one really had anything new to offer.)

After that, the following question was on transportation on what the county should do on road improvement and RTC transit expansion. Greg Newell started the response train by showing support for a possible ACE ("light rail like" rapid bus) line connecting Downtown and The Strip to Henderson. (Henderson still has no rapid transit yet, but RTC has talked recently about possibly bringing an ACE Line here like the new Downtown/Strip ACE Line and North Las Vegas' MAX Line.) Scow echoed his support, but also stated she'd like an actual light rail line running on the existing Union Pacific railway (something Newell said he opposes) and said this would be a smart way to snatch more federal stimulus funds for mass transit, along with developing a plan for improving the (long neglected) 95 Freeway on the East Side from Downtown to Henderson. Parks then explained how his past experience dealing with local transit issues with Clark County (like his work on developing the original CAT system in 1992!) shows he's ready for today's transit problems. He also showed support for a possible light rail line to Henderson, as well as a high-speed rail line to California (he hinted he leans more toward Maglev over DesertXpress, but overall contrasted with Newell expressing doubt that we'd ever get any new train to Cali). Greg Esposito then countered with his own experience growing up in New York City (where they have real mass transit!), then coming here in the early '90s and discovering just how much Las Vegans love their cars. He then said that if RTC can succeed in finally building the 215 Beltway around the valley, that they can be more creative in following through on their transit plans and giving more workers more viable alternatives to their long car commutes.

Now once this was done, the sparks started flying again! This time, the other big question on SNWA's long planned "Water Grab" to build a pipeline from Northern Nevada's (and Utah's!) Snake Valley to pump their water down south for our use. Now all four candidates (likely much to the chagrin of PLAN and most Northerners) endorsed the Water Grab, but to various degrees. Scow was first and most supportive of this, as she flat out stated that "Clark County carries the state, so the rurals can't cut us off at knees!" However, she did also say that SNWA needs to be more sensitive to rural needs and move forward in the most environmentally sensitive way possible. Parks echoed this, but also said that the county should consider other possible plans since "Lake Mead's third straw" won't be enough and the state Supreme Court ruled against SNWA. Newell said that water conservation will be key to our survival, but that all new water options must be on the table, including getting California to build more desalinization plants along its coast to free up more Colorado River water for Nevada (again, sorry Cali!). Esposito agreed with Newell on conservation, while also agreeing with Scow that we need to tread carefully in pursuing SNWA's Snake Valley plan.

Now there was a little more in the debate that I'll get to later today, along with more of my honest assessments of the candidates and the District G race. But without a doubt, last Wednesday wasn't really a snoozefest to those of us crazed policy wonks. (Sorry, Mr. Ralston.) ;-)

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