Nevada Supreme Court upholds narrow victory in Clark County Commission race

The front of the Nevada Supreme Court Building

The state Supreme Court Thursday upheld a 15-vote victory last November by now-Clark County Commissioner Ross Miller, denying the legal challenge by former Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, who was seeking a new election.

Chief Justice James Hardesty wrote the unanimous opinion for the court, disagreeing with Anthony’s attorneys, who argued discrepancies in the voting process met the definition of an election being “prevented.” 

“Because voters had the opportunity to vote in the November 3, 2020, general election and were not prevented from casting their votes for District C, we conclude that the district court properly found that the election was not ‘prevented" under (state law),” Hardesty wrote. “Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.”

Anthony, a Republican, filed for a recount on Dec. 4, three days after the Clark County Commission certified the results of the District C election in spite of 139 ballot discrepancies in the district. Those discrepancies had caused the board to consider a special election, but then it reversed course. 

The recount resulted in 74 new ballots included in the count, which found that former Miller, a Democrat and the former secretary of state, won by 15 votes, more than the 10-vote margin from the original results. Miller was ultimately sworn in as commissioner.

The seat on the commission was open because Commissioner Larry Brown was term-limited.

During oral arguments, Hardesty pointed to the District Court’s decision to stick with an affidavit filed in District Court by Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria, which did not indicate that a fair election was prevented. 

Innovation Zones study still sees issues raised by Storey County, others

Although it has been a month since the contentious proposal creating autonomous “Innovation Zones” was scrapped and turned into a study, the concept has continued to receive pushback as it moves through the Legislature. 

The concurrent resolution, SCR11, would establish a committee of six appointed lawmakers to study the Innovation Zone proposal, including evaluating its effects on economic development, natural resources, the environment and local tax revenues. The measure passed out of the Senate on May 19 on a voice vote.

During its hearing in the Assembly Committee of Revenue on Tuesday, comments from lobbyist Mary Walker in neutral testimony, representing Carson, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties sparked a conversation about tax revenue and future growth concerns in Storey County — the likely location of any Innovation Zone, as the concept backers Blockchains Inc. owns about 67,000 acres of land and spearheaded efforts in favor of the concept earlier this year. Blockchains did not testify in the committee hearing.

Under the original proposal, Blockchains would be allowed to create a new form of local government operating as a “county-within-a-county,” but the measure brought up concerns it would receive all of the tax revenue from technology companies located within the “Zone,” causing Storey County to miss out on taxes it would otherwise receive. Opponents also raised concerns about the Tesla Gigafactory, which has property tax abatements nearing expiration in 2024 and is expected to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for state and local governments.

Austin Osborne, Storey County manager, brought up the county’s 2016 master plan which includes a high density, urban housing development near the tech properties.

“We're not looking for ranch houses on one acre parcels with horses on that property, we have places in Storey County for that and we want to protect those areas for that,” Osborne said. “[This area is] for the millennials, the Generation Z, the high-tech people, people that want to live very close to innovation.” 

Although Osborne and the county were in neutral on SCR11, he said if a study was to move forward, it should compare the progress of the proposed Innovation Zone project versus what development would look like with Storey County's existing framework — touting that zoning and planning process takes only about 180 days, depending on the developer’s plan. 

In March, Storey County Commissioners voted to oppose the Innovation Zones concept as a bill.

“As long as the state of Nevada puts in the necessary structure in place to manage those [technological] resources appropriately, we're totally in support of it, no problem… As far as the separation from local government and everything related to, the commissioners are strongly opposed to that,” Osborne said. “If an interim study does move forward, we're going to find that really it's not necessary for this method to move things for what I think the goals are placed here… We really are the Innovation Zone already.”

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno) shared some of her reservations with economic development bills and projects that oftentimes lack consideration of how it might affect the area, from infrastructure and affordable housing, to the environment and water consumption.

“My experience with a lot of projects where we say that we want to focus on economic development, is its economic development in a vacuum, without consideration for these other things,” Benitez-Thompson said. “When we talk about impacts, I think this conversation is long overdue… We've got to have a conversation about how this all plays out, and how the next decade looks regionally.”

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Rental assistance program reports slower than expected disbursements

Clark County’s CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) has helped another 1,500 households pay rent and other bills in the past month, although it is falling short of the pace program administrators had projected in late March.

Between July of last year and April, CHAP assisted more than 24,000 households with rent, mortgage payments (when available) or utility bill assistance, distributing more than $97 million, county officials told The Nevada Independent on Monday. A month ago, when Gov. Steve Sisolak announced an extension of the eviction moratorium, county officials said the program had helped 22,500 households.

Assistant County Manager Kevin Schiller said in a March 30 press conference that CHAP would “anticipate, on a weekly basis, processing upwards of about 2,300 applications a week for approval, so that's the number we're shooting with in terms of those weekly averages." At that pace, the program should have approved about 9,200 applications in four weeks. 

County officials said the new documentation requirement for applicants has slowed down the program's application processing more than expected. CHAP is looking to hire additional staff to process assistance applications this month to "significantly increase the number of applications being processed," the statement read.

There are 9,000 applications for rental assistance pending, which is far fewer than the 23,500 pending applications the county reported a month ago. Officials say the decrease is because of changes in the program, which no longer provides mortgage assistance. The program also made changes to its eligibility requirements including lower household income limits and requiring additional documentation. 

“In March, about 23,000 applicants were notified of changes to the assistance program, and advised that they needed to provide additional documentation if they wanted their application to move forward,” county spokesman Dan Kulin said in a statement on Monday. “Among those who have decided not to continue, it is possible the changes to the program made them no longer eligible for the housing assistance.” 

The 9,000 eligible households in the queue have provided the additional required documentation and are being processed in the order they were originally received, Kulin said. The program has received a combined $161 million from federal and state allocations — enough to help 40,000 more households. 

Legislators have said they are working on crafting a bill that would help ensure all the federal assistance goes to good use. Asked about the processing pace, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said she hadn’t yet seen the numbers.

“I think everyone's doing everything they can to help with rental assistance move along because we don't want to have a situation where people are being evicted — and in large numbers,” she told The Nevada Independent on Monday. “I think everybody remains committed to making sure we can get that process moving and keep people in their homes as much as possible.”

Advocates say taxing, regulating companies such as Airbnb could raise millions in taxes; opponents say it could hamper industry

State lawmakers believe they can unlock millions of dollars in untapped tax revenue by regulating and taxing short term rentals facilitated by companies such as Airbnb at the same rate as hotels — though opponents warned that legislative overreach could lead to the industry driven out of the state.

AB363, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) and heard Thursday in the Assembly Revenue Committee, would establish requirements, rules, enforcement mechanisms and tax collection methods for short-term rentals brokered by companies such as Airbnb, Vrbo and other third-party services that rent out rooms, apartments and homes for a short period of time.

The bill attracted a broad swath of supporters, including the Nevada Resort Association, Culinary Workers Union, real estate agents associations and progressive groups, who identified lack of short-term rental regulation as part of the reason for uncontrollable party houses, a dearth of affordable housing and a siphoning of guests away from already established resorts and hotels.

Opponents of the bill, however, warned that the regulations would decrease tourism revenue, reduce growth of the state’s short term rental market and infringe on individual property rights — representatives from Airbnb wrote in a letter that the original draft of the bill “would essentially ban any meaningful short-term rental activity.”

For her part, Nguyen said she didn’t believe that outright bans on short-term rentals was the right policy solution, but that lawmakers needed to have some oversight over the industry.

“Right now, I suggest you look at your app for Airbnb, or HomeAway, or Vrbo or any of the other types of apps, and you will see hundreds, if not thousands of listings, most of them operating unlawfully,” she said, referring to the official (but rarely enforced) ban on short-term rentals in unincorporated Clark County. “We are not collecting those taxes, we are not collecting that revenue, and so I believe that there does need to be parity in this situation.”

The bill would require cities or counties to include short-term residential spaces in the definition of “transient lodging” — meaning they’d be subject to the same taxes that hotels charge guests. It also would create a process requiring anyone renting out a room or space to submit an application for a permit, pay an annual fee to maintain that permit, designate a local representative for the rental and maintain liability coverage for their unit.

The measure could have some substantial tax benefits for both the state and local governments — Airbnb alone estimated in a letter opposing the bill that it could have collected and remitted up to $14.5 million in hotel room taxes on behalf of hosts in 2019. Taxing short-term rentals was also mentioned by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson as one of the potential funding solutions to meet recent recommendations by the Commission on School Funding to bump per-pupil spending up to the national average.

Nguyen described the measure as a “dynamic working document” — noting that by her count, she had held roughly 72 meetings, phone calls and video conferences with individuals and interest groups on the measure ahead of the hearing on Thursday, and expected even more changes to come in the enforcement aspects of the bill. 

“Is it going to be a perfect bill?” she said. “No, no bill exists, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.”

The bill, plus a conceptual amendment presented to committee members on Thursday, included these provisions:

  • Set a minimum stay of two nights for any short-term rentals, excluding owner-occupied properties
  • Limit occupancy for short-term rentals to 16 people with four occupants for the first bedroom and two additional people for every other bedroom in the house
  • Establish a minimum distance of 500 feet between any short-term rentals, except for units within a multi-family dwelling
  • Implement a separation of 2,500 feet between the property line of a resort hotel and a short-term rental that is a single-family residence
  • Cap the percentage of allowed short-term rentals in a multi-family dwelling at 25 percent 
  • Prohibit short-term rental owners from holding more than five permits
  • Require short-term rental owners to have a designated local representative who is responsible for the rental and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to any issues.

The conceptual amendment would also grandfather in any pre-existing approved short-term rentals from the provisions of the bill, and only would apply to a county with a population greater than 700,000 — meaning it would only apply to Clark County.

Local governments would have the authority to suspend a permit or impose fines or penalties if someone violates the ordinance, but could not enact an outright ban on short-term residential rentals. The bill also requires individuals or entities renting out a space in a residential unit to pay taxes to the county or city as applicable.

Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) said he planned to-cosponsor the bill, and that another enforcement-focused amendment would be coming aimed at giving police and code enforcement departments more tools to go after non-compliant rentals.

“I know from my law enforcement time that (short-term rentals) and the bans that we have in Clark County provide a number of issues for neighborhoods throughout the valley, and our police officers don't have the tools necessary to police those, neither do code enforcement,” he said.

This isn’t the first time state lawmakers have tried to tackle the issue of regulating short-term rentals — legislators in 2017 approved a bill, AB321, authorizing local governments to adopt ordinance requiring short-term rental platforms to submit quarterly activity reports, including revenue from unit rentals.

However, that bill did not address the current patchwork network of short-term rental regulation found throughout the state — only three counties (Clark, Washoe and Douglas) and a handful of cities have adopted formal policies on short-term rentals. The policies range from total bans (unincorporated Clark County) to only owner-occupied homes (City of Las Vegas) to requirements that each unit have a landline telephone (City of Mesquite).

Airbnb lobbyist Adam Thongsavat said that while the company thought the conceptual amendment offered a fair and balanced approach, it still had major concerns that a buffer around gaming establishments, distance requirements between short term rentals and a two-night minimum would not help Nevada’s tourism economy recover.

“Now is the time to help draw visitors to Nevada in a safe and healthy manner,” Thongsavat said. 

Other opponents held that the legislation does not go far enough — Incline Village resident Ronda Tycer, a chair-person of the city’s short-term rental citizen advisory group, said she opposed the county population cap (Washoe County, which includes Incline Village, adopted its own short term rental policy in March).

“The current Washoe County ordinance does not protect our neighborhoods, or our community at Lake Tahoe,” Tycer said. “After two years of pleading with the county, we still have no limits on numbers or locations of [short-term rentals] throughout our Lake Tahoe Community.”

Numerous Airbnb hosts also called in to oppose the legislation, citing fears about loss of income and noting that their short-term rentals do not disturb the peace or affect neighbors.

“My home is not loud or disruptive to my neighbors. If it was I wouldn't have been able to do this business successfully for four years,” Las Vegas resident and Airbnb host Melissa Cassidy said. “There are all kinds of travelers. Let’s keep up with the world and provide them all kinds of options in Vegas. I miss hosting. I miss my guests. I urge you to make Airbnbs legal, but without the proposed arbitrary distance restrictions.”

However, supporters praised the additional regulations for ensuring a “level-playing field” for hotels and gaming industries.

“[AB363] protects residential neighborhoods, communities, and affordable housing, and fairly requires [short-term rentals] to pay the transient lodging tax, just like our resort hotels do,” Boyd Gaming lobbyist Russell Rowe said.

Jim Sullivan, a lobbyist for the Culinary Union, said additional restrictions on short-term rentals were needed to deal with the state’s constant lack of affordable housing; short-term rentals are often blamed for contributing to housing shortages as investors purchase properties without the intent of renting them out long term. He said workers on the Strip with variable work shifts also complain about the prevalence of rented party homes.

“Workers have complained of party houses that keep them and their neighbors up at night, and have turned their neighborhoods into unruly, unofficial resort quarters,” he said.

Local governments not affected by the bill expressed gratitude for the conceptual amendment, but Wesley Harper, executive director of the Nevada League of Cities, opposed the burden the bill places on smaller jurisdictions in Clark County with limited finances or manpower.

“We hope that the committee views this bill with scrutiny and respects the purview of local governments to properly govern according to the direct and unique needs of our residents,” Harper said. 

Lawmakers took no immediate action on the bill, which has been exempted from legislative deadlines. Nguyen said she’ll continue to work on issues brought up by bill opponents, but reiterated that lawmakers likely needed to do something on the issue this session. 

“I do think that this is a step in the right direction,” Nguyen said. “The genie is out of the bottle and we need to address it head on.”

The eviction moratorium was extended. What should landlords and tenants be doing?

Leaders in the Legislature say they are considering a way to speed up the backlogged process of distributing hundreds of millions of dollars of federal rental assistance, but no bill has been introduced with 10 weeks left until a government eviction moratorium lifts.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said lawmakers are working on a plan with the Supreme Court and the counties to make sure that rental assistance funds reach those in need, but did not offer details about what that would look like.

“We're trying to figure out the best way to help facilitate getting that money to pay for those tenants that have been unable to pay, get back to those landlords and help keep those tenants in their properties,” Cannizzaro told The Nevada Independent

So what could tenants and landlords experience during the three-month extension of the federal moratorium, which lifts June 30 (an additional layer of state protections were extended through May)? The Indy explains. 

Landlords can prepare to evict, but need to inform tenants of resources

Gov. Steve Sisolak said the recent two-month extension will be the last, but added that now, when homeowners send notices to tenants during this period, they must also include information on the assistance programs available and how to access them. 

In March, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a new extension to the federal moratorium until June 30 –  one month longer than Nevada's – Sisolak indicated that no one should be evicted while the federal moratorium is in place.

“They'll still be protected, they won't become homeless, won't lose their housing,” Sisolak said. “We want an opportunity for after the 60 days expires, some of the landlords can go in and start to file papers … It will get our process started while the clock runs off the CDC moratorium.” 

State leaders are fast-tracking urgent applications 

Shannon Chambers, president of Home Means Nevada, a state-affiliated nonprofit that develops assistance programs for homeowners, added during a late-March press conference that while the moratorium “does buy some more time, we have to be effective and efficient in how we process that time, and how we work through these issues.”

“Over the next 60 days, Home Means Nevada will be working with the other partners … to develop a plan that will prioritize rental assistance applications,” Chambers said. 

Tenants should update their rental assistance applications

During the March 30 press conference, Kevin Schiller, assistant county manager for Clark County, emphasized the importance of submitting and updating the documentation necessary as there are new requirements to receive assistance from the Clark County CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP). These include proof of COVID-19-related financial impact such as reduction of income or loss of employment, a W-9 form from the landlord and, if applicable, a response to any eviction notices received while the application is being processed.

“Documentation is a critical component of this… If you're in that queue and you update those within the next 30 days, you maintain your spot within that,” Schiller said. “If you are applying as a new applicant, you need to get on there as soon as possible to get that documentation and that completed application.”

Schiller added that in order to receive assistance from CHAP, applicants must live in Clark County — and undocumented people are still eligible. 

From July through March, the county has helped more than 22,500 households with rent or mortgage assistance through federally funded grant programs, according to county officials. There were still about 12,000 households with pending applications in December when the initial assistance program ran out of money. Now, about 23,500 applications are pending. With the most recent aid package, CHAP is expecting $161 million to serve up to 40,000 households. 

“We really want to get these dollars out over the next 60 days, and prioritize those needs,” Schiller said, adding that the county is also working on rehousing those who end up losing their home. “If you apply for assistance and you weren't eligible, we still have you in our queue to work on rehousing you and getting you into an apartment or into a residence so that you are not homeless.”

Tenants should file a response if they get an eviction notice

Christopher Storke, an attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, spoke with The Nevada Independent about what the moratorium means for Nevadans and what tenants need to know to protect themselves from an eviction, among other points.

Storke says he knows tenants wonder “What now? How is this going to protect us? What do we have to do moving forward?” He urges tenants to file a response to any eviction notices they receive to avoid being locked out through a rapid eviction process in Nevada called “summary eviction.”

“If you fail to file that tenant answer then unfortunately, the court will review based upon the documents and if they deem them to be sufficient, then they will issue the summary eviction order,” he said.

Advocates hope extension is enough time to distribute aid

With the CHAP program backlogged, Storke said the extension gives time for tenants’ applications to be processed and get the aid to pay landlords while keeping renters in their homes. 

“The protection in place is basically 60 days where they can't be evicted through a termination of tenancy eviction notification or for a non-payment notice, so long as it was within the terms that the CHAP program had paid,” Storke said. 

The extension of the CDC and state moratoriums allows the state to use the new federal funds that were approved in the COVID aid bill Congress approved in March to go toward rental assistance. Storke said that if tenant protections were to expire, then the state would be left with money that was intended for landlords and tenants that would not be distributed appropriately. 

“The intent was, at least from the perspective of all the advocacy that has occurred on behalf of housing advocates, is the simple fact that more time was needed to be able to distribute these funds,” Storke said. “At the end of the day, what would be the point if you got all this money for the state to be able to provide for rental assistance but then you end up with a boatload of individuals and tenants who are evicted during that time frame?”  

More than just an extension

Storke said he was very pleased when he heard of the extensions to the moratoriums to continue providing protection for the tenants, otherwise it would have disrupted progress toward more of a “normal life” prior to the pandemic.

“We're turning a corner here in the state of Nevada – the economy is picking up, people are going back to work, people are receiving the vaccine,” Storke said. “It's great to be able to have that extension in place to be able to provide an opportunity for Nevada and the citizens to be able to move forward and provide us with a chance at recovery.” 

Tenants can reach out for help 

Depending on their location in the state, tenants and landlords are able to get more information and assistance from the following entities:

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee switches parties over ‘Socialist takeover of the Nevada Democratic Party’

North Las Vegas Mayor John J. Lee announced Tuesday that he is switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, citing the party’s leftward shift and fueling speculation that he may run for a higher office in 2022.

Lee made the announcement during an appearance on Fox and Friends early Tuesday, saying the state Democratic Party’s recent leadership takeover by members of the Democratic Socialists of America had convinced him to finally switch political parties. 

“Though I’ve been a registered Democrat on paper my entire life, I made the switch in my heart a long time ago, because on some things, there’s simply no compromise,” he said in a statement. “That’s why I voted for President Trump twice. That’s why I had an A+ rating from the NRA and their endorsement in my time in the state senate. I refuse to compromise my pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment values. I know there are countless others who want to make the switch, because it means the difference between hope and despair for their children and grandchildren. I hope they join me.”

Lee’s campaign said he was the most prominent elected official to switch parties since President Joe Biden took office earlier this year. His updated website urges others to make the “switch,” and outlines several broad policy objectives — “smaller government, lower taxes, free speech, protect unborn life, protect the right to bear arms, and the embrace (of) the spirit of liberty that made America so great in the first place.”

In a brief interview last month, Lee didn’t deny interest in running for a higher office in 2022, saying he was taking many phone calls on the subject.

“I’m not prepared to make a decision right now, but there is some dissatisfaction with both parties right now,” he said earlier in March.

Prior to running for mayor, Lee served two terms in the Assembly from 1996 to 2000, and two terms in the state Senate from 2004 to 2012. Lee lost a state Senate re-election bid in 2012 in the primary election to fellow Democrat and current office-holder, Sen. Pat Spearman.

After winning election as mayor of North Las Vegas in 2013, Lee helped shepherd the city through fiscal troubles that saw the city shed half of its staff, reduced its budget by $20 million and drastically reduced services, while seeing its bond rating drop to junk status. Lee has been a strong proponent of economic development, which has included a concentrated effort to build out the Apex industrial park and streamline permitting processes for new construction.

But his tenure as mayor hasn’t been without controversy. Lee and the city were investigated by the FBI in 2015 after reports of suspected child pornography were found on his iPad. Lee dismissed the allegations as a “hack job” and the probe was later dropped because of a lack of evidence.

Lee also made headlines in 2018 over the messy ouster of former North Las Vegas City Manager Qiong Liu, who was publicly fired by the City Council and replaced by current City Manager Ryann Juden, who had been working for the city (as Lee’s chief of staff and assistant city manager) and had worked on Lee’s political campaigns.

Storey County board, water district oppose effort to let technology company form local government

Horses at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center

Storey County commissioners voted Tuesday to oppose “separatist governing control” within their jurisdiction after Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak backed a legislative effort that could result in a private tech company and major campaign donor forming its own local government.

Blockchains LLC, a company that owns roughly 67,000 acres of land in Storey County, is asking lawmakers to approve a program that would allow large-scale landowners to create “Innovation Zones.” As described in draft legislation, Innovation Zones would operate as autonomous entities with governmental powers and focus on developing emerging technology.

A Storey County water district, governed by the commissioners, also voted to oppose the legislative effort Tuesday. Both motions direct staff to continue negotiating with the company. 

“This would carve out a part of Storey County and create another county, in essence,” Austin Osborne, Storey County manager, said before commissioners voted on the motion Tuesday. 

Osborne raised several concerns with the concept of letting Blockchains create a self-governing entity within the county. He argued that the Innovation Zones in the proposed legislation could place strain on the county’s resources and remove a portion of its potential tax base.

In publicly released documents, Blockchains outlined plans to build a “Smart City” on a portion of its land. The proposed residential development, which a company executive said would be located in the Painted Rock area along the Truckee River, would include about 15,000 dwelling units.

For the past decade, Storey County has used tax breaks and expedited permitting to lure major companies, including Tesla, Google and Switch, to set up operations in the county’s Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. The county has focused on growing commercial businesses with a small population. Most workers at the industrial center live in neighboring Washoe or Lyon counties. 

But Blockchains wants to build a residential town, and in the past, county officials had told the company they were not interested in a development at the scale they proposed, the AP reported.

“We have great respect for Storey County,” said Pete Ernaut, a lobbyist representing the tech firm. “They have a remarkable track record on permitting commercial development. However, their history of permitting residential or mixed-use development is where we separate.” 

In an interview Tuesday, Osborne said the company’s plans to build homes could potentially move forward within a traditional government structure. Storey County’s 2016 Master Plan, he noted, discusses the construction of a residential and mixed-use development in Painted Rock.

“It's something, with an appropriate proposal, we would certainly look at,” he said.

A Sisolak spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The governor unveiled the legislative proposal on Friday afternoon at a panel with his economic development czar and a private economic analyst. Sisolak asked for people to keep an “open mind” about the concept. Blockchains and its CEO Jeff Berns donated tens of thousands of dollars to help elect Sisolak.

The legislation has not been formally introduced.

Osborne and the county commissioners also questioned whether the legislation was necessary, given that Storey County already has a permissive regulatory environment known for tilting in favor of encouraging private development, a trend dating back to the Comstock mining boom.

“Storey County is the poster-child for this sort of thing,” Osborne said. “There is no place in Nevada that has fast permitting, permitting flexibility, nimbleness that Storey County does. We are well-known for that all over the United States as well as locally. We are the innovation zone.”

In 2019, The Nevada Independent reported on how private and public interests were blurred in the development of the industrial center, where Blockchains owns the majority of its land and is seeking even greater autonomy to pursue a master-planned development that includes housing. 

Storey County Commission Clayton Mitchell echoed Osborne’s comments Tuesday, adding that unlike many local governments, Storey County looks for creative ways to enable development. 

“We often take heat for being too flexible and moving too fast,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, along with Storey County Commission Chairman Jay Carmona, signaled a willingness to work with Blockchains. The motion directs staff to engage in a “good-faith” dialogue with the company. The motion also asks staff to work with lawmakers to support blockchain technology. 

“They’ve invested substantially in Storey County, and I’d like us to be able to welcome them and facilitate their success as a productive, contributing member of our community like we have with our other corporate citizens,” Mitchell said.

But the commissioners said they could not endorse the company forming its own government, adopting language that opposed “separatist governing control and carving up of Storey County.” 

Mitchell and Carmona both voted for the motion. Commissioner Lance Gilman was not present at the meeting. Gilman, who represents the industrial park’s master developer and also serves on the County Commission, helped sell the roughly 67,000 acres of land to Blockchains in 2018. 

In a statement, Ernaut said the company is open to working with the county moving forward: “A smart city with 35,000 residents is essential to the vision of this Innovation Zone, which makes permitting a city of this size key to this discussion. We understand their initial reaction to such a unique idea, and look forward to finding a path forward that works for everyone.”

The commissioners adopted a similar motion to oppose the legislation at a separate meeting on Tuesday. The Storey County Commission oversees the water district for the industrial center, a utility that serves the Tesla Gigafactory, a Switch data center and other commercial businesses. 

According to a map that was presented at the meeting, all but 2,200 acres of Blockchains’ land is within the water district’s service territory, raising questions about how they would develop the residential land. The district was mainly formed to provide water connections for industrial use.

A map shows the land owned by Blockchains LLC (in blue) and the service territory of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center's water district. The map was presented at a water district board meeting on Tuesday, March 2, 2020.

The company owns a majority of land within the water district’s service territory. There remains uncertainty about how the district would operate if Blockchains formed its own Innovation Zone.

“They would be a huge user of water in the area,” Will Adler, a lobbyist for the water district, said at the meeting. “And it’s kind of unclear whether you would have to provide that water initially or not, depending on how this is developed or not, because of that uncertainty.”

Changing the name of McCarran International Airport will take months

It will take months for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement the recently approved name change of McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport.

“We must complete some administrative tasks before we officially recognize any name change,” said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA’s Western Pacific Region, which has authority over Nevada’s airports. 

“These include processing the name change to ensure proper tracking of federal grant-agreement obligations, as well as revising the Airport Master Record and air traffic control maps to reflect the name change,” Gregor continued.

The tasks generally “take a matter of months” to complete, Gregor said.

The FAA doesn’t regulate airport names but could raise a concern if there were any operational issues.

The first step is for the Clark County Department of Aviation to notify the FAA in writing of the county’s action. That includes providing the FAA with minutes of the Clark County Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday when they voted to change the airport name. 

Joe Rajchel, a spokesman for the county’s aviation authority, said there was no timeframe for when the authority would send its formal letter notifying the FAA. Still, he noted that “we are working on that letter in anticipation of when those minutes become available.”

Clark County Director of Aviation Rosemary Vassiliadis also laid out some of the steps the FAA will take once it is informed of the change. 

“FAA does perform analysis to determine the impacts to their system and the documents, so they would look at the air traffic control maps, they’ll look at the airport certification manual, the airport layout plan and the airport security plan, the grant documents,” Vassiliadis told the commission before the vote.

“That's why this takes some time to really scale down to see everything that would need to be changed,” Vassiliadis added. 

Vassiliadis also said that the county would need to change its documents to include the new name; for example, bond portfolio documents will require the new name. She added that the county would also need to work with airlines and concessionaires to make any pertinent changes.   

Seth Lehman, an airports analyst with Fitch Ratings, which monitors some of Clark County’s debt, said it’s not unusual for airport authorities to use airports to honor prominent citizens. 

One recent example is when officials in Louisville, Kentucky in 2019 changed the name of the city’s airport to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport from Louisville International Airport.

The Louisville airport authority voted to change the name in January and unveiled a new sign in June, making the change official. 

The name change at McCarran shouldn’t affect revenues at the airport one way or the other, Lehman said.

“We don't look at it as something that has a material impact revenue-wise to an airport because it's not like where you rename sports stadiums or arenas, with a corporate sponsor that paid possibly tens of millions of dollars to have their name on their billboards and all the marketing materials," Lehman said. “Here, it's just more of an honorary approach.”

Lehman doesn't think that the politics involved in naming airports loom large in travelers' minds and that the airport is uniquely situated to serve Las Vegas.

“Anybody who wants to go into Las Vegas will use that airport, whether it's regionally or for long-haul travelers coming to the city,” Lehman said.

Clark County Commissioners approve renaming McCarran airport after Sen. Harry Reid, federal approval needed next

The Clark County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a name change from McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport. 

“I will be proud to cast my vote today to support the airport being renamed as a tribute to the work [Sen. Harry Reid] has done for Nevada, regardless of party, and a reminder that we must continue to fight the good fight for our community every day,” said Commissioner Justin Jones. 

Reid expressed gratitude following the unanimous vote.

"It is with humility that I express my appreciation for the recognition today," said the former senator. "I would like to express my deep gratitude to Commissioner Segerblom, the entire Clark County Commission, and the many others who have played a part in this renaming."

During the meeting, public comments were filled with support and opposition for the name change. While many favored renaming the property after Reid, noting his accomplishments and ties to Nevada, some outright rejected a change, and some proposed different name possibilities, including Las Vegas International Airport.

One person in opposition made the argument that changing the airport’s name to a powerful Democrat leader would further fuel the partisan divide present across the U.S., which he said carries economic implications.

“I'm not here to express an opinion on what's right,” said Edward Facey during the public comment period. “Rather, I want to reinforce the point that involving brands with politically polarized political issues and personalities has economic impact. And most of those impacts are negative.” 

But for others, the name change is a statement in support of Nevada’s diversity. 

“In Las Vegas, we often tear down our history,” said Astrid Silva, Dream Big Nevada executive director and immigrant’s rights advocate. “Let’s build it up, build up people like me, who didn’t know that they mattered. Naming Harry Reid International Airport would show all our young Nevadans that no matter if you come from the desert, you can soar.” 

The board will submit a request to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval of the name change, although the LAS letter code used by the administration to identify the property would remain the same. 

If approved, rebranding the airport would cost an estimated $2 million. However, Commissioner Tick Segerblom explained that funds will be raised privately to cover those costs. 

“I do think that no one should have to suffer from this economically,” Segerblom said. “We do have contributions lined up, and we will figure out a way to to collect those and then make sure it’s covered.” 

Along with the support from the all-Democrat commission, the decision to change the namesake of the airport, from the controversial and influential Sen. Pat McCarran to former Senate Majority Leader Reid, has been supported by other prominent Democrats throughout the state, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Attorney General Aaron Ford.

“Senator Harry Reid has never forgotten who he is or where he came from,” Sisolak said in a statement. “He has spent his life and his career lifting up Nevada to what it has become today. He has helped to shape Las Vegas into a world-class tourism destination in a state that celebrates its diversity.”

The name change also received support from prominent Republicans, including Miriam Adelson and Sands Chairman and CEO Robert Goldstein, as well as from university presidents, including UNR President and former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“Among his list of exceptional accomplishments, Senator Reid’s work on behalf of the airport has helped Nevada become a great global destination,” Sandoval and UNLV President Keith Whitfield wrote in a letter. “We support honoring Senator Reid’s decades of service for the great State of Nevada by renaming the airport in the community and state that he has helped build and prosper.”

The push to remove McCarran as the namesake of the airport has been around for several years. In 2017, Segerblom’s effort to strip McCarran’s name from the airport through legislation died in committee.

The airport’s original namesake, McCarran, who served in the U.S. senate from 1933 until his death in 1954, has been defended by some as a champion of labor rights. However, his critics have scrutinized him for having a documented legacy of racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia that included restrictive immigration policies that limited immigration for Jewish refugees after the holocaust.

“Senator Patrick McCarran’s history of supporting racist and anti-Semitic policies does not align with what Las Vegas represents,” Jason Gray, an MGM Resorts representative, said. “And frankly his name should not be the first one that visitors to our region see.  Las Vegas’ main airport should be named after a champion of values important to Nevada – a champion of Nevada – Senator Harry Reid.”

This story was updated on 2/16/2021 at 3:07 p.m. to include a statement from Sen. Harry Reid.

University presidents, including Sandoval, pen letter in support of renaming McCarran airport after Sen. Harry Reid

UNR President and former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval joined his UNLV counterpart, President Keith Whitfield, in a letter Thursday to the Clark County Commission supporting changing the namesake of Las Vegas’ international airport from controversial Sen. Pat McCarran to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

In their letter, the presidents praised Reid as “one of the most effective and distinguished public servants in the history of Nevada,” and said that the senator’s personal contributions “have significantly increased access and opportunities for our students.”

“The airport in Las Vegas is one of the great public resources in our state, and is seen by millions from around the world,” the presidents wrote. “Among his list of exceptional accomplishments, Senator Reid’s work on behalf of the airport has helped Nevada become a great global destination. We support honoring Senator Reid’s decades of service for the great State of Nevada by renaming the airport in the community and state that he has helped build and prosper.”

Thursday’s letter places Sandoval among the most prominent Republicans calling for the change, which has gained steam since being introduced in the County Commission earlier this month.

Sandoval was also appointed to the federal bench in 2005 on Reid’s recommendation, though he would later resign that seat in order to run for governor in 2010. 

Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has led the most recent charge to change the airport’s name, arguing in part that McCarran’s name “doesn’t represent the diversity of our community.”

The airport’s original namesake, the highly-influential Sen. McCarran, who served in the U.S. senate from 1933 until his death in 1954, has long been scrutinized for his instrumental role in the McCarthyist communist witch hunts of the 1950s and a documented legacy of racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia.

The senator’s defenders have seized on McCarran’s history as a champion of labor rights, including efforts to implement the eight-hour workday. 

But McCarran’s critics have often characterized his immigration policies as “draconian,” pointing in particular to restrictive immigration policies that limited immigration for Jewish refugees after the holocaust and expanded deportation laws. 

In defending one such law after a veto by President Harry Truman, the restrictive McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, McCarran said: “If this oasis of the world should be overrun, perverted, contaminated, or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.”

By 2017, that history had become so problematic that Nevada’s congressional Democrats wrote to state leaders to urge them to approve the removal of a statue of McCarran from Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill. 

The statue remains in the Capitol building to this day, however, even after a second letter asking for its removal was sent by the state’s Congressional Democrats in 2020. 

In 2017, Segerblom — at the time a state senator — also introduced legislation in Carson City that would have stripped McCarran’s name from the Las Vegas airport. However, that bill, SB174, never received a vote and ultimately died in committee. 

Presidents' Letter Supporting Airport Renaming by Jacob Solis on Scribd