No-Camping Zone: Are city, Metro heading for endless homeless roundup?

The Courtyard, a city of Las Vegas shelter for homeless people

Listen awhile to advocates for a new city ordinance that’s meant to move street-camping homeless from sidewalks and trash-strewn lots into shelter, and you can almost imagine a kinder, gentler Las Vegas.

That’s a Las Vegas where there are enough beds for the down-and-out no matter their condition, one that has a continuum of care that’s more than a turnstile. It’s a place that communicates and delivers services with a level of coordination that makes a prima ballerina appear bow-legged.

It’s a place that, as you might have guessed, doesn’t now exist.

Already slammed by homeless advocates as a half-clever attempt to clear the streets of the downtrodden with political expediency disguised as compassion, the city’s effort to usher in a new approach to treating its undeniable homeless crisis is set for a hearing by the City Council on Wednesday.

Despite some vocal opposition that has included drive-by support from Democratic Party candidates including former Housing Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, short of a late development or group defection it’s hard to see it not passing a council and mayor whose offices regularly receive complaints from homeowners and business operators -- especially those in the downtown corridor where the challenges are impossible to miss.

In response to criticism from the ACLU and an array of activists, the city has gone up with its own views of the social issues and legal concerns on its Proposed Homeless Ordinance page. Among the highlights and painful reminders: Affected homeowners not only fear finding human excrement in their front yards, but they believe “homeless street populations” make their neighborhoods less safe and devalue their properties up to 15 percent; in addition, 83 percent of downtown business owners support the ordinance. That’s not surprising considering their livelihoods are affected by people sleeping on their doorsteps.

As the city sees it, street-camping ban and roundup are meant to “help direct” those in need to the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center and other nonprofits that offer services ranging from a cot to alcohol rehabilitation. Cops are good at directing traffic, but herding cats is child’s play next to ushering a homeless population the size of a small town.

Over the course of the year, Clark County reports 14,000 people experience homelessness at some point with 5,500 on the street on a given day. Just 2,000 beds are available.

But not even the city’s best PR effort tries to downplay the obvious: By its count, more than 6,500 people, including families, float through the year without permanent affordable housing. Two of every three homeless people sleep out for reasons that include drug addiction, mental illness, a lack of transportation, and a fear for the safety of themselves and their meager belongings. Some refuse to go because they won’t separate from a partner; others would rather sleep in a drainage ditch than give up a pet. (City staff considers the county’s downward adjustment of the homeless population, still among the highest per capital in the nation, due more to a change in the census metrics than an actual reduction in numbers on the street.)

In City Attorney Brad Jerbic’s 27 years on the job, the homeless issue in all its complexities has been the most confounding problem that’s crossed his desk. And, remember, Jerbic has managed to march through the first Goodman era and the dizzying moves of developers Billy Walters and Yohan Lowie. They were pussycats by comparison.

Earlier this year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a sweeping ruling against the city of Boise, Idaho’s homeless camping ban, determining that it criminalized homelessness and constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Boise is seeking a reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jerbic argues the Las Vegas ordinance proposal differs in important ways. It doesn’t outlaw all public camping, but prohibits it in certain areas. It gives those in prohibited areas the option of entering a shelter or moving elsewhere.

“I know what we’re doing, and we’re not doing what Boise did,” Jerbic said. “It has been called a complete citywide ban. It’s not. We limit the ban to places. Boise didn’t. ... If adopted, you have a right to sleep someplace if there’s no shelter. We know that that alternative is a public sidewalk. You just don’t get to pick the sidewalk.”

A legal challenge is to be expected, but Jerbic admits there may be real challenges in coordinating communication between the courtyard and other facilities with Metro officers and the city’s own homelessness field workers. Metro has experience dealing with homeless issues. Although Mayor Carolyn Goodman has called for a roll-out of the ordinance by mid-November, it’s possible the enforcement will be delayed until February.

Even if it’s successful, there’s another problem, one that plagues local governments on this issue: The city would be chipping away at a regional problem. Without an accelerated countywide approach, any success figures will be short-lived.

And no one in authority speaks with confidence about substantively addressing the rampant mental health issues on the street.

Removing the homeless from the sidewalk is one thing; addressing the heart-breaking and costly issues of the human condition is quite another.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Sisolak's 2018 calendar gives detailed view into campaign, county operations

A mix of lobbyist meetings, fundraisers, campaign events and county business dominated Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak’s calendar throughout the first 11 months of 2018, according to a copy obtained by The Nevada Independent.

Sisolak, who defeated Republican Adam Laxalt in the November election and will be sworn in next month as the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years, kept a packed schedule through most of the year, ranging from meetings with gaming executives, business leaders, top lobbyists and other candidates for office, along with debate prep, campaign events and nearly three dozen fundraisers in addition to his normal county business.

The information was obtained via a records request submitted by The Nevada Independent on Dec. 7 for a copy of the Clark County Commission chair’s calendar from Jan. 1 to the first week in December. Some caveats: just because a meeting was scheduled in the calendar doesn’t necessarily mean it happened, and the calendar isn’t a definitive record of Sisolak’s meetings and activity on the campaign trail.

With hundreds of entries, the calendar provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the relationships and schedule of the man soon to be Nevada’s 30th governor.

Jay Brown

Twenty-seven scheduled meetings, including 17 one-on-one meetings, underline the close relationship between Sisolak and powerhouse local government lobbyist Jay Brown, whose long list of clients includes Resorts World, Republic Services, Treasure Island and a host of marijuana dispensaries.

Two of the meetings were held with longtime Walters Group president Mike Luce in January and August. Another two meetings with Brown were held with developer Don Webb, the Raiders stadium chief operating officer. Brown represented the team in its business before the county commission last year.

Other participants in meetings with Brown and Sisolak included prominent Las Vegas developer Brett Torino on Oct. 10, developer-turned-cannabis company owner Mitch Wilson on Nov. 29 and prominent criminal defense attorney David Chesnoff on Jan. 9.

Brown, a top attorney and former law partner of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, has close relations with many Southern Nevada power players, including former Sen. Harry Reid and incarcerated gambler Billy Walters. Walters’ wife, Susan, contributed $100,000 to Sisolak’s gubernatorial campaign in the weeks ahead of the 2018 election.

Brown contributed $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign through his law firm on Oct. 5, and another $10,000 personally on Sept. 1, 2017.

Eglet

In December 2017, Clark County became the first jurisdiction in Nevada to contract with the private law firm of Eglet Prince to pursue litigation against 17 pharmaceutical-grade opioid companies.

Over the next several months, close to a dozen other jurisdictions in the state would also enter into similar contracts with Eglet Prince. During that period, Robert Eglet, the firm’s namesake and senior partner, continued to meet with Sisolak and help his campaign.

Sisolak’s calendar shows meetings with Eglet on Jan. 23, a dinner with him and lawyer/businessman Peter Palivos on Feb. 2, another meeting on May 31 and an Eglet-hosted fundraiser on July 26, the same day Sisolak’s campaign reported receiving more than $107,000 in contributions, including $5,000 from Eglet Prince.

Post election meetings

So far, Sisolak has announced that a handful of Sandoval administration appointees will remain at the helm of executive branch agencies in his administration, and his scheduled meetings since the election suggest he’s considering keeping more in place.

His calendar shows meetings with current Department of Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon on Dec. 4, and a meeting with Paul Anderson, head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, on Dec. 5. Both meetings were scheduled at Sisolak’s “Transition HQ.”

The incoming governor also met with SEIU leaders Brian Shepherd and Grace Vergara at the transition HQ on Dec. 5. The Clark County Commission approved a 1 percent salary increase for all county employees and a 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment pay bump for union members at their Dec. 18 meeting.

Peter Palivos

Sisolak’s calendar also shows eight meetings with Las Vegas lawyer and businessman Palivos, a personal friend, between January and June of 2018. Palivos was the seller in a $7 million land deal in 2012 with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and since then has been a philanthropist and Democratic political donor.

He donated $15,000 to Sisolak’s gubernatorial bid between September 2017 and October 2018, about a quarter of the $57,000 total he has donated to Democratic candidates and causes since 2012.

Before moving to Nevada, Palivos was involved in a dubious real estate deal in Illinois which eventually saw him convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice in 2003 — though Palivos had claimed outside of court that he was framed by prosecutors for refusing to provide evidence against former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

Other meetings

Sisolak’s calendar is peppered with other meetings with top lobbyists and political insiders.

It shows three scheduled meetings with powerful lobbyist and R&R Partners CEO Billy Vassiliadis in March, April, and a few days after the general election in November, as well as a scheduled meeting at the firm’s office on Nov. 13. The advertising firm represents some of the most powerful entities in the state, including the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Blockchains LLC and the Nevada Resort Association.

Sisolak also met with lobbyist Gary Milliken at least four times, including joint meetings with taxi executive Jonathan Schwartz and Nevada Contractors Association vice president Sean Stewart.

The calendar also shows a scheduled meeting with Station Casino owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta on Oct. 3. Both Feritta brothers and their wives individually contributed $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign about a week earlier, according to campaign finance records.

He also reported meeting with former Diamond Resorts CEO Stephen Cloobeck on Oct. 21. Cloobeck, who in 2017 weighed a run for governor, contributed $5,000 to Sisolak in August and constantly slammed his Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, on Twitter prior to the election.

He also met with Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox on Aug. 28, Monarch Casino Resorts CEO John Farahi on Sept. 12 and Switch CEO Rob Roy, also on Sept. 12.

Education support

Meetings recorded on the calendar also underline Sisolak’s close alliance with the Clark County Education Association and its leader, John Vellardita.

In addition to a CCEA podcast recording in late May, Sisolak’s calendar shows a meeting with Velardita on June 27, the same month the union officially split from its parent organization, the Nevada State Education Association. Velardita held a fundraiser for Sisolak on Oct. 24, a day which his campaign reported raising more than $58,000.

CCEA was an early backer of Sisolak in both the primary and general elections, including spending more than $1.3 million on his behalf through 2017 and 2018 through the “Nevada Leads” political action committee, which ran ads attacking primary opponent Chris Giunchigliani and Laxalt.

Although the NSEA spent heavily to back Giunchigliani, Sisolak’s calendar shows meetings with the group on July 19 and a roundtable with the organization on Oct. 12, about a week before the union announced it was endorsing him for governor. He also met with Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara on the same day as the NSEA meeting, July 19.

Political meetings & fundraisers

He also had scheduled meeting with current and former Democratic elected officials over the span of several months, including Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Richard Bryan, Senate Majority Leader and attorney general candidate Aaron Ford, Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and state party chair and Assemblyman Will McCurdy.

In the heat of campaign season, Sisolak also met with a number of Democratic politicians, candidates and former politicians. That includes several primary fundraisers with state and local politicians, including Rep. Dina Titus on March 27, then-state Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson on March 27, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela on March 14, and County Commission candidate Tick Segerblom on October 25.

Sisolak’s calendar also shows a scheduled meeting with Segerblom’s primary opponent, labor organizer Marco Hernandez, on March 28 — the same day Sisolak’s “Sandstone PAC” contributed $500 to Hernandez’s campaign.

He also reported meeting with National Popular Vote, a group pushing for states to adopt an agreement to cast electoral votes toward the winner of the popular vote, on July 10. A bill adding Nevada to the compact failed to make it out of committee in 2017.

Whether fundraisers were for Sisolak, another candidate or joint was usually not made explicit in the calendar, though by the general election he had held at least 32 fundraisers exclusively for his own campaign, including at least two after the election in November. Those fundraisers include:

  • 7/18 - Ali Rizvi, CEO of Litigation Services, LLC.
  • 7/19 - Doctors fundraiser with three local doctors, including a “Dr. Prabhu,”(Rachakonda Prabhu, longtime politically connected physician) Dr. William Resh, and Dr. Nick Spirtos
  • 7/26 - Robert Eglet, partner at Eglet Prince
  • 8/15 - Phil Peckman, CEO of The Peckman Capital Corporation
  • 8/20 - Chad Christensen, former state assemblyman
  • 8/29 - Scott Canepa, attorney at Canepa Abele Riedy, and Scott Sibley, publisher and former assemblyman
  • 9/5 - Small business fundraiser
  • 9/6 - Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
  • 9/6 - Christopher Kaempfer and Anthony Celeste, attorneys at Kaempfer Crowell
  • 9/10 - Barbara Molasky, account executive at The Rogich Communications Group and President of the Neon Museum, and Jan Jones, former Las Vegas mayor
  • 9/11 - Laura Fitzsimmons, Sisolak’s longtime personal lawyer, and Mary Kaye Cashman, CEO of the Cashman Equipment Company
  • 9/13 - Rob Walsh, attorney at Walsh & Freedman, and Khusrow Roohani, owner of Seven Valleys Realty
  • 9/15 - Fundraiser, Bonefish Grill
  • 9/20 - Ozzie Fumo, state assemblyman
  • 9/24 - Mike Dreitzer, CEO of Gaming Arts LLC (the calendar entry for this fundraiser misspells the name as “Mike Drezier”)
  • 9/25 - Robert Goldstein, President and COO of Las Vegas Sands
  • 10/3 - George Harris, CEO of Alien Tequila, Don Ahern, CEO of Ahern Rentals
  • 10/4 - Robert Goldstein, president and COO of the Las Vegas Sands. Goldstein contributed $5,000 to Sisolak’s campaign on Aug. 21.
  • 10/5 - Dr. Tousif Pasha
  • 10/10 - Ash Mirchandani, former deputy director at the state Department of Business and Industry and lobbyist
  • 10/11 - Ross Miller, former Nevada secretary of state, Bob Miller, former Nevada governor, “Dr. Khan” (longtime politically connected physician Ike Khan)
  • 10/12 - Marybel Batjer, secretary of California’s Government Operations Agency, former VP of public policy and corporate social responsibility for Caesars Entertainment and former chief of staff for Gov. Kenny Guinn.
  • 10/17 - Mark James, former state senator and county commissioner, Neil Tomlinson, managing partner at Hyperion Advisors
  • 10/21 - Mark Miyaoka, Robert Song and Helen Hsueh, owner and publisher of the Las Vegas Chinese Daily News
  • 10/22 - Rita Vaswani, professional banking relationship manager at Nevada State Bank and Dr. Benito Calderon
  • 10/24 - John Vellardita, head of the Clark County Education Association
  • 10/25 - Sharon and Tick Segerblom, the former state senator and incoming Clark County commissioner
  • 10/26 - Dr. Nick Spirtos, CEO of the Apothecary marijuana dispensary, and NFL player Jerry Rice (Spirtos is Rice’s family doctor). The fundraiser was scheduled but did not take place.
  • 10/27 - William Hill CEO Joe Asher and company attorney Reed Horsley
  • 12/4 - Judy Perez, an executive with real estate development company Siegel Group
  • 12/5 - Tyre Gray, an attorney and lobbyist with the law firm of Fennemore Craig

Sisolak calendar by Riley Snyder on Scribd