Fire, Flooding, Demolition & Reconstruction
Hello! This is the second edition of my newsletter. I moved to this platform from the social media site NextDoor because not all who wanted to receive updates are on that site. If you’ve received this but don’t want to in the future, no problem at all. Just go the unsubscribe button down below. There is also a disclaimer of sorts at the end. Also, if the links I share don’t allow you to click over to those, you’ll need to cut and paste into your browser bar.
Pinehaven Fire and Power Lines – I went on a field trip with Fire Chief Cochran and a few others last week. In advance, I asked them to prepare a map showing where they believe the fire started and the origin of the 2011 Caughlin Fire. These locations are remarkably close to one another and in proximity to where the dirt road takes off after the turn off to the Caughlin Ranch Storage. At this location, there are two power lines that take off from the nearby substation. One is higher voltage and heads in a southeastern direction. The other one that is uphill is of a lesser voltage and follows due south. As this is the power line associated with both fires per Reno investigations, I wanted to know where this one went as it is at the edge of Caughlin Ranch and city boundaries.
When I went home, I traced the path of the line from the satellite image on my device’s application. Well, it goes across the foothill all the way to a neighborhood accessed off of the Mount Rose Highway (near the Thomas Creek area). I am puzzled why this neighborhood is not fed from lines off the highway corridor rather than one that traverses the foothills for several miles. I am going to explore this issue and other questions that have been raised about our electrical and gas infrastructure. Because both are provided by Nevada Energy that is an investor- owned utility, and not publicly owned like our water, sewer or street infrastructure, it flies below the radar.
Steamboat Ditch Update - For the latest on this, I’ll refer you over to the Barber Brief because she beat me to it: https://thebarberbrief.substack.com/p/flexing-the-power-of-the-people?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoyMjU4MDcxMSwicG9zdF9pZCI6MzI1NzQwNDQsIl8iOiIzQzhLUCIsImlhdCI6MTYxMzQ0MjM1NywiZXhwIjoxNjEzNDQ1OTU3LCJpc3MiOiJwdWItMjM5NTE1Iiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.God7wwsdD0MSNUoaQA95xcOKzOvQbBniGoeflVdfbvs
With this proposal mothballed, eyes will turn over to the City as we work to stand up a stormwater utility to address the complex and ignored runoff consequences of our developed region (see below).
Arlington Avenue Bridge Replacement – As also mentioned in the Barber Brief, it is the Arlington Avenue’s bridges turn to be reconstructed. Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) has been working on this and next week it will be the Council’s turn to weigh in on the design options. One concern that I have had all along is that while this is a transportation project, it is one bisecting our community’s living room – the riverside parks of Wingfield Park, Bicentennial Park and Barbara Bennett Park.
This consideration means that the urban design features of the project are as important as the engineering. Will this rise to the design of an elevated bridge as some have advocated so that the parkland corridor is uninterrupted? I don’t know that RTC internalized that input early on and this could be a missed opportunity. At minimum, the bridge reconstruction should also be a time for some reimagining and reconstruction of tired Wingfield Park and its amphitheater.
More Jacobs Entertainment Teardown – I got on my bike for the first time in months the other day and came across more downtown demolition by Jacobs Entertainment (owner/operator of the Sands Regency and Gold Dust West). By my estimate, the company is responsible now for approximately 25 acres of ground leveling and elimination of about 1200 residential motel units. This one leaves a big gap at the Second Street and Arlington Avenue intersection.
My refrain about Jacobs is that you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick the developers who come to your town. In exercising his property rights of land clearance over nearly three years, Jacobs has yet to construct one new residential building. This is too bad because we have strong demand for urban housing and the units that we have lost were some of the most affordable in the region. I sometimes wonder when I see unhoused folks around the downtown area, how many used to find shelter in some of Jacobs’ torn down motels.
While I am billing this newsletter as an update on Ward 1 issues, every now and then citywide or regional issues are worth highlighting. Here are a few:
North Valleys Flood and Wastewater Effluent Taking - The founding fathers recognized that there would be times, when government needed to acquire private property for public purposes. Think, for example, of farmland on the path of a planned connection between communities. With this in mind, they allowed government to take private property for “just compensation”.
Over time it has evolved that there are two types of takings. The first is when government passes a regulation that reduces the use of the property to a degree that the property cannot be used. These regulatory takings are extraordinarily rare, but interestingly enough, commonly claimed in zoning land use proceedings. These claims are often intended to chill a government action or non-action (this is a tack favored by local land use attorneys at planning commission hearings in the rare occasion when their development client’s application is not approved).
The other type of taking is when a government action causes a physical intrusion on to land that makes it unusable, even if for an interim period. When this occurs, government has by default condemned the land and this action is known as inverse condemnation. This is where the City finds itself in the North Valleys Swan Lake area as a result of the 2017 winter.
A unique feature of our Great Basin geography are playa lakes like Swan Lake that swell and contract, over wet and dry periods. If you think about some of these lakes like the great Salt Lake, and majestic Pyramid Lake and Mono Lake, there are not a lot of buildings around these lake perimeters. But this is not the case with Swan Lake so when the rains come after a period of dryness, the lake responds and swells. One cause for the swelling is that run off from the basin down into the lake low point, and another is that the City of Reno releases effluent from its nearby wastewater treatment plant into Swan Lake. In particular, as the Swan Lake basin has developed with rooftops, parking lots and streets there is less absorption of run off into the natural ground and more flow ending up in the lake.
In 2019 a jury found these two factors to be responsible for Swan Lake expanding its footprint in 2017 and resulting in water flowing on to neighboring properties. Last week, after much legal wrangling and maneuvering by the City Attorney’s Office, a District Court judge issued an “omnibus” order, saying that the City is liable for damages. Regrettably the damages that owed to two property owners well exceeds the attorney fees that the City is also liable for.
While most of the discussion when the City is in litigation is held behind closed doors as the law allows, there have been two notable public votes on this litigation. One involved the hiring of an expert witness and the other involved a procedural appeal up the Nevada Supreme Court that was rejected. Both of these Council votes were 6-1 votes with me in the minority. At our next meeting, City Attorney Karl Hall is probing the Council for another trip up to the Supreme Court to try to overturn the judge. This comes with the risk of further running up the taxpayer dime to pay the flooded folks’ attorney fees. I am optimistic that at least three of my colleagues will be willing to cut our losses this go around, but we’ll see.
Marching up to the Storey County Line – With daily pandemic life feeling like Groundhog Day, why not a do-over at the Reno City Council?
Jenny Brekhus is the Ward 1 Reno, NV, City Council Member. When opinions and views expressed, without other attribution, they are those of Jenny Brekhus and do not reflect official views or positions of the City of Reno or the Reno City Council unless otherwise noted. This publication and any response it generates communicated through any channel, may be subject to disclosure under Nevada Public Records Act if it substantively refers to City of Reno business.