From buses to clean water to cheaper housing, Nevadans weigh in on how to spend billions in federal aid

At a Clark County Commission special meeting in July, Trinh Dang, the executive director of Southern Nevada’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, made a simple request — could the county invest some of its share of funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into expanded mental health services?

“We are understaffed, underfunded, but there is a huge need in our community,” Dang said. “Our system is just broken in general.”

During many weeks of meetings, Dang and hundreds of other Nevadans have told government officials about the ongoing aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic — the rise in youth suicide, the financial devastation that forced thousands out of their jobs and closed countless businesses and the exacerbation of the affordable housing crisis.

In meetings held from Las Vegas to Reno to Elko, residents and representatives of myriad nonprofits have discussed the significant damages caused by the pandemic and how the one-time windfall of federal aid dollars can best be spent to address long-term community needs, including affordable housing, public health and water and broadband infrastructure. 

President Joe Biden signed the landmark, $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law in March, delivering more than $6.7 billion in federal relief to Nevada (the state’s general fund biennial budget is roughly $8.7 billion). The majority of those federal funds ($1.1 billion in general aid for local governments and $2.7 in state general aid) can be spent with broad flexibility through the end of 2024.

Since July, officials have sought to gather feedback on spending those general aid dollars through surveys and community meetings, in accordance with the U.S. Treasury’s stated emphasis on public input, transparency and accountability.

But even with a lengthy timeline for spending, the pressure is on to garner responses now. While the state will collect ideas from the community through October, counties must submit broad spending plans to the U.S. Treasury by Aug. 31. Other local agencies, including school districts, must submit initial plans by early September.

The focus on public input marks a significant departure from the more top-down process for how previous coronavirus relief dollars were used by state leaders to respond to the challenges of the pandemic. That approach drew criticism from lawmakers, including questions about why the City of Las Vegas spent the majority of its relief funds to maintain city employee salaries.

“While it may be tempting to try and spend this money quickly, make headlines and get it out there, we have responsibility to make sure that this money is invested deliberately and intentionally, so that we can build a better lifestyle, a better Nevada for not just us but for generations to come,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said at an ARP-focused event in Las Vegas on Aug. 3.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent in late July, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones said ARP funds can be used to address long-term needs because immediate needs were addressed using dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a federal relief package signed into law in March 2020 that brought more than $1.2 billion to the state government and sent other help directly to individuals and businesses.

“I think that we were able to use those CARES Act dollars wisely to address a lot of those immediate concerns,” Jones said. “So I do think we're more focused on sort of a longer term vision of how we address public health and infrastructure in our community.”

Some long-term priorities have already been decided. At an August meeting of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, lawmakers appropriated roughly $700 million of the state’s ARP general aid — much of which was authorized by lawmakers earlier this year. But even with those funds allocated, state officials, legislators and local government officials still have roughly $3 billion in ARP funds to spend over the next several years.

From crowded county commission meetings to small, in-person events in rural communities, here’s how Nevada leaders are eliciting feedback on the state’s most pressing needs. 

Community feedback

In Southern Nevada, the Clark County commissioners started the process early. They held a series of “community workshops” beginning on July 13, with meetings focused on hard-hit communities, affordable housing, small businesses, health and infrastructure. On top of that, commissioners held smaller town hall meetings within their own districts.

Jones, whose district encompasses portions of Enterprise, Paradise, Spring Valley and Winchester west of Interstate-15, as well as rural areas in the southwest part of the county, noted the new focus on gathering feedback before spending.

“The ARPA legislation really encouraged the local governments, state governments to get public input on how the dollars should be spent, whereas CARES Act was more prescriptive in terms of how it could be used,” Jones said. “The county just wanted to be on the front end, soliciting information from the public.”

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones during a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

So far, Clark County commissioners have heard a laundry list of spending ideas, primarily from nonprofits.

Fuilala Riley, president of HELP of Southern Nevada, a social services agency that helps people gain housing access, urged the commissioners to spend funds on affordable housing.

“Preserve the affordable housing units we currently have at all costs,” Riley said at a July meeting. “Please create more affordable housing units, increase subsidized housing programs, and then continue and create programs that keep people housed, like rental and utility assistance.”

At another workshop less than a week later, similar groups asked for public health funding.

Andrew Sierra, an organizing manager for the Nevada Conservation League, said improvements to air quality would help combat climate change and address health issues prevalent in minority communities. 

“This poses a significant health [risk] towards low-income and Black and brown communities, especially considering that they are the ones who suffer the brunt of the climate crisis,” Sierra said.

Even as those ideas continue to roll in, the level of community engagement has ranged from robust to minimal at Clark County’s meetings.

While scores of people attended the community workshops at the county’s government center in Las Vegas, other meetings led by individual commissioners drew much smaller crowds of fewer than 10 people.

Clark County Commissioners during public comment on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

In other parts of the state, ideas and input on spending decisions have rolled in even more slowly.

On July 20, the Washoe County commissioners accepted the county’s roughly $92 million share of ARP funds — local governments must accept their share of funds from the federal government before allocating them. 

County-level conversations in Washoe County about the funds did not officially start until a commission meeting in mid-August, nearly a month after Clark County started its process.

Though most of the meeting’s public comments were from Washoe County residents upset with the pandemic-related mask mandate — a common occurrence throughout ARP meetings — several attendees said they would like to see ARP funds allocated toward affordable housing and wraparound services meant to help youth and families that might include mental health treatment and case management.

“Making sure that we take a look at more affordable housing, that's extremely important here within Washoe County, especially with the growth that we're experiencing,” Benjamin Challinor Mendez, who serves as policy director for the social justice nonprofit Faith in Action Nevada, said during the meeting.

State listening tour

While counties gather feedback on pots of federal relief funds ranging from less than $1 million in Eureka County to more than $440 million in Clark County, the state has taken a broader approach to gathering ideas on its more than $2 billion in general aid.

The state kicked off its community efforts in early August with the “Nevada Recovers Listening Tour,” featuring Sisolak and Treasurer Zach Conine. The tour consists of 75 meetings over the course of 75 days.

During the first few weeks of the tour, Conine has presented information to county and city officials, from the Pershing County Commission to the North Las Vegas City Council, and has met with a variety of community groups, including business owners in Reno, farmers in Fallon and members of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Schurz.

At a state-hosted event at the Yerington Food Pantry on Aug. 13, Conine asked a group of about 15 local residents how they want to see federal relief funds spent.

Community members gave input on where Nevada’s American Rescue Plan funds should be spent at a food pantry in Yerington on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Tim Lenard/The Nevada Independent)

Gathered in a small circle around Conine, some people said they thought enhanced employment benefits were leading to worker shortages. Others, including 77-year-old Troyanne Cada of Silver Springs, said the county lacked affordable housing and child care options. A few attendees said students need more social support at schools.

“We need a lot of housing for these homeless people,” Cada said. “We need some reasonable rental homes for the people that, you know, they want to rent and can't afford to buy.”

After one woman said that every school should have a social worker, 75-year-old Jerry Harris of Yerington shared the story of her grandson who was abused.

“I'd like to see somebody professional there because he said, ‘I couldn't talk to my teacher because I didn't want to go to foster care, grandma,’” Harris said. “These little kids are our future. They need help.”

John Fullenwider, a minister who lives in Yerington, told The Nevada Independent after the meeting that he hopes to see ARP funds invested in water infrastructure. The residents of the city have been dealing with the effects of groundwater pollution from a nearby copper mine over the past several years.

“I’m hoping some of the money will be allocated to water to clean up some of our water waste,” Fullenwider said. “People are drinking poisonous water, and it’s not good.”

In other rural communities, residents are also hoping for some funds to be allocated towards water infrastructure. On the state’s listening tour, Conine met with farmers at Lattin Farms in Fallon, where attendees discussed how to better use water for food production, The Fallon Post reported.

The City of Fernley in rural Lyon County has already put those ideas into its ARP spending plans. The city’s plans — shared at a city council meeting on Aug. 4 — dedicate $8 million in ARP funds to support capital projects that improve the city’s wastewater infrastructure.

John Fullenwider, a minister with a revival tent in Yerington, Nevada, said he hoped some of the money from the American Rescue Plan would be used to help clean up local waterways on Aug. 13, 2021. (Tim Lenard/The Nevada Independent)

Other sources of input

While many county and state meetings have been used to gauge public opinion and gather ideas, some ARP meetings have focused on more particular groups of Nevadans, such as students in Clark County or Latinos residing in Reno.

At a Clark County School District (CCSD) town hall meeting on Aug. 18, student panelists discussed the difficulties they faced while learning online last year and offered advice for the best uses of ARP funding. Chief among them: mental health services.

One student suggested a dedicated mental health week at school, while another said it would be helpful to have more non-academic extracurricular activities that could help students form social connections and provide a mental break from school. 

Students from Global Community High School, which serves students who are new to the country, also requested transportation funding, as CCSD currently does not provide transportation to the school, which forces some students to take Regional Transportation Commission buses each day. District officials have said they’re working on transportation solutions for students and have promised buses will be provided when Global’s new school opens next year.

At a roundtable event in Reno on Aug. 24, Latinos called on the state to distribute the federal funds to help small local businesses, create more affordable housing, increase access to interpretation services and invest in local infrastructure by adding more crosswalks, streetlights and parks to low-income areas.

“In order for the economy to succeed, we need to invest in small business,” Jose Velasquez, who owns A Toda Madre tattoo shop, said in Spanish during an interview with Luis Latino from KTVN. “Small business is like the train that needs to keep going, because at the end of the day, large corporations have millions of dollars but small businesses are hurt.”

State and local governments also have gathered a vast amount of input online.

Through a statewide website that received hundreds of submissions through early August, people have taken a survey to share their thoughts on how the ARP funds should be spent. Clark County also has a survey for spending ideas, which already has garnered more than 3,200 responses.

Different plans for spending

As community meetings continue across the state, counties and other local governments are on their own paths to developing plans for allocating their share of ARP funds. 

Carson City and Fernley, the most populous city in rural Lyon County, each have developed plans for spending that involve directing a large chunk of their ARP funds to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, including Fernley’s plans for a community response center that will be used for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.

In populous, urban Clark County, the county’s initial plans — assembled by local government consulting firm Management Partners and presented at a county meeting on Aug. 17 — blend different approaches by seeking to address both short- and long-term needs.

Meanwhile, the state has mostly relied on a long-term approach in developing its plans. In mid-July, the governor’s office entered into a contract with Las Vegas-based consulting firm Purdue Marion, valued at roughly $763,000. Details from the contract reveal plans for state leaders to give 70 presentations to elected officials and boards across the state, as well plans for 44 other community events, including events specifically created for Hispanic and other minority communities. The contract calls for the firm to plan and promote those events, including four months of radio and television advertising.

“More money has come into the state through the American Rescue Plan, the bills that preceded it and potentially the bills that follow it than has ever flown into the state at one time,” Conine told the Washoe County Commission in August. “And that gives us a chance to fix some of these long-term systemic issues.”

Reconciling the different approaches

As city and county governments develop their own spending plans, state officials are also concerned that the many different pots of ARP funding may lead to a duplication of efforts.

Conine emphasized that the process for figuring out how to spend the federal relief dollars is complex, with more than 100 different streams of funding coming into Nevada from the American Rescue Plan and the possibility for billions more in federal dollars to come to the state from other federal spending bills.

“This is about collecting all of the need, resourcing that need — so it's not just an idea, but a plan — and then being ready for it when future dollars come,” Conine said.

Local governments and agencies also are working on different timelines. Counties must submit an interim report — that includes broad spending ideas by category — to the U.S. Treasury by Aug. 31. School districts must submit expenditure plans by Sept. 10.

The state has more flexibility, with funds spread across different accounts, including a holding account within the governor’s office and the state general fund.

Attendees were provided strips of post-it notes to place on large issue boards where they thought the money should be spent in Yerington on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Tim Lenard/The Nevada Independent)

Synthesizing the ideas

Even with roughly a quarter of the state’s general aid already allocated, Conine said the state’s listening tour is playing a vital role in how the state will spend billions of dollars over the coming years.

“[We] wanted informed spending priorities, not just because that's the direction from the White House and the language in the Treasury guidance, but because we want to make sure that communities who have been hit hardest have the option to figure out how to spend this money,” Conine said at the Washoe County meeting.

Meanwhile, Clark County’s consultants have already presented the county with the culmination of weeks of feedback.

Synthesizing all of the information — from county workshops, commissioner town halls, thousands of survey responses and hundreds of preliminary applications for expenditures — Management Partners developed a plan consisting of roughly four pages of recommendations and prioritizes affordable housing, public health, support for local businesses and services for children.

The firm’s guidance includes recommended allocations for a wide range of categories, including $90 million for public health and $2 million for infrastructure. But the plan remains a broad overview —  those recommendations do not yet break down further into specific expenditures for government projects and services.

Purdue Marion’s contract calls for a similar plan that can be narrowed to a list of specific spending ideas, and Conine has said multiple times that all ideas the state receives will eventually be released publicly.

“At the end of that process, through the help of the Legislature, we end up with one plan for housing statewide — obviously, there'll be different components that are geographic — one plan for economic development, one plan for increasing mental and behavioral health services, one plan for et cetera,” Conine said at the Washoe County meeting.

As Nevadans continue to reiterate similar priorities for spending — affordable housing, public health, the economic recovery and water infrastructure — Conine and other state leaders are maintaining an open invitation for feedback.

“Our suggestion to everyone, to Nevadans watching, is tell us what you need, tell us how you would fix it,” Conine said.

Tim Lenard, Jackie Valley and Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez contributed to this story.

Masks offer ‘bridge to vaccination’ as Delta variant-fueled case surge fills hospitals with the unvaccinated

Just before noon on a hot summer day, Anthony Dejesus was getting the mail when he noticed a vaccine clinic had set up shop at his East Las Vegas apartment complex.

Dejesus, 52, had wanted to get the COVID-19 shot for a while but hadn’t been able to get to a vaccine site. Engine trouble had left him without a car for some time. But when the vaccine was suddenly mere steps from his front door at Hullum Homes, a public housing complex, he seized the opportunity.

“I feel untouchable,” he joked, shortly after getting his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday. “No, I feel good. I just want to find out how this is going to be. Am I going to have any side effects?”

His girlfriend hasn’t yet gotten the shot, nor have any of his other friends or family. He called himself a “guinea pig,” indicating that, if all went well with his vaccination, maybe they would be convinced to get the jab, too. He’s also worried about his 4-year-old daughter starting pre-K next year with the virus still around.

“I’m still debating, should I let her go, or should I wait?” Dejesus said. “It’s her first year.”

Sitting in the waiting area after getting his shot, 47-year-old Garland Washington explained his wariness about getting vaccinated. He had heard rumblings of rare, but serious, side effects, including blood clots and death, but decided to get the shot after hearing on the news that unvaccinated people are at serious risk of contracting the Delta variant.

Washington, who also lives at Hullum Homes, said some of his friends and family already got the vaccine and were okay.

“I hope so,” he said, asked whether he thought he’d be okay too.

For Felipe Carrillo, 35, it was a mixture of hesitation and inconvenience that stopped him from getting vaccinated sooner. He happened to be visiting someone who lives at the apartment complex when a volunteer came by with a bullhorn announcing the vaccine clinic. Carrillo ultimately decided to get the shot to protect his nieces and nephews, who are too young to get vaccinated.

“They weren’t really concerns,” he said, describing his hesitancy. “I don’t know. I just never found the time.”

In the three months since health officials started to turn away from assembly line-style mass vaccination sites in favor of smaller, community-based clinics, the strategy has not changed. These pop-up clinics — hosted at public housing complexes, fire stations, school open houses and the like — continue to be the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.

This kind of micro-targeted vaccination effort, however, takes time, which means victory against the virus comes at a snail’s pace. More than 180,000 shots have gone into Nevadans’ arms in July, about a quarter of the 700,000 shots administered at the peak of the vaccination effort in Nevada in April. In other words, the kind of work that used to take a week now takes a month.

And what Nevada — and the rest of the country — are running out of is time. Both the number of new cases of the virus reported on average each day and the total number of daily hospitalizations across the state have more than doubled since the beginning of July, with the highly transmissible Delta variant now responsible for 8 in 10 COVID-19 cases in Nevada.

Health officials across all levels of government have, for the last month, been urging Nevadans to get the shot in light of the rising case numbers, which are among the highest in the nation, and stagnating vaccination rates, which are among the lowest. As of Friday, Nevada ranked eighth for most cases per capita in the last seven days and 34th for percentage of its residents fully vaccinated.

To address the rapidly worsening situation, Nevada called on the federal government in early July to send surge staff to help with the vaccination effort, and local, state and federal officials are now working together to boost the pace at which the state is putting shots in arms. 

But there was also an acknowledgement this week from all levels of government that the vaccination effort alone may no longer be enough to stem the rising tide of cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation this week that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in places experiencing high or substantial transmission of COVID-19, guidance that became binding on Friday in a dozen Nevada counties, including Clark and Washoe.

The mask mandate can’t replace the vaccination effort, public health experts say, but may help buy vaccinators time against the quickly spreading and highly transmissible Delta variant. 

“Ultimately, we need to get people vaccinated,” said Brian Labus, an assistant professor of public health at UNLV. “The purpose of masks is always that bridge to vaccination and if people aren't getting vaccinated, masks are just going to slow down the spread and not really stop people from getting sick ultimately.”

Health care workers, meanwhile, have found themselves back at the frontlines of a pandemic they have been battling for more than a year. 

It’s not just the virus they’re up against this time around, though. It’s also vaccine hesitancy.

Door hangers as seen during a pop-up vaccination clinic at Hullum Homes Apartment Complex in Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Second summer surge

When the vaccine arrived in mid-December, health care workers — many of whom were overwhelmed, anxious and tired for the greater part of a year — described feeling as if the clouds had finally started to part. By March, case numbers and hospitalizations in Nevada had plateaued. For three months, they barely budged, only seeing the slightest of fluctuations.

Then came June and, with it, the rise of the Delta variant. Now, hospitalizations are back where they were a year ago during the last summer surge. As of Thursday, 1,133 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in Nevada, just shy of last summer’s record.

In interviews, several doctors in hard-hit Southern Nevada said the feeling of helplessness from the prior surges is gone this time. They have the material resources they need to treat patients, including personal protective equipment, ventilators and medications. They have a better idea about how to treat COVID-19 today than they did a year ago, though they’re still learning more about the virus each day. But they also feel like — despite the arrival of the vaccines — they’re right back where they were last summer, which marked the first surge of COVID-19 cases into hospitals in Nevada. 

It’s all the more frustrating, they say, because the surge this time could have been prevented had more people gotten vaccinated. In Nevada, only 44 percent of people are fully vaccinated against the virus, compared to about 50 percent nationally.

“In taking the pulse of my providers, frustration is a great word to use because this is an avoidable situation,” said Dr. Scott Scherr, regional medical director for TeamHealth, which manages five emergency departments in Las Vegas and one in Elko. “I've had discussions with multiple unvaccinated people that I’ve admitted to the hospital, and I've asked them, ‘When you recover, are you willing to get the vaccine?’ and a lot of them are still saying no.”

Dr. Steven Merta, chief medical officer at Sunrise Hospital, described the feeling as not one of frustration but heartbreak.

“Everyone can make their own decisions. We’re a free country,” Merta said. “But when I see those people up on the intensive care unit, I’m just heartbroken, upset that they made choices that may have altered the ultimate outcome.”

The situation remains stable in the northern and rural parts of the state, where COVID-19 patients are taking up 2 to 4 percent of staffed hospital beds, but quickly worsening in Southern Nevada, where COVID-19 patients take up 21 percent of staffed beds, according to a report this week from the Nevada Hospital Association. Those numbers follow case numbers, which have steeply climbed in Clark County in the last month while more gradually increasing in the rest of the state.

Complicating things, hospitals are fuller than they were during the last two surges with other non-COVID patients. 

“As the city has opened up, people are back doing their normal things and that does result in increased hospitalizations,” Chris Lake, executive director of community resilience for the Nevada Hospital Association, said on a press call this week. “At this time, we are working with the state to identify steps that we can take from a state perspective to help ease that burden, if you will, on the hospitals.”

This week, at least seven hospitals surged above their licensed bed counts and five reported staffing shortages, the hospital association noted in its report. Some have once again started postponing elective surgeries, a broad category that can include pressing but delayable procedures from hip and knee replacements to low-risk cancer surgeries, though it is up to each individual hospital to decide what to postpone.

UMC, Clark County’s public safety-net hospital, is making decisions about elective surgeries on a day-to-day basis, according to a spokesman. The six hospitals in the Valley Health System, meanwhile, are “closely monitoring” surgeries that require inpatient beds for overnight or multi-night stays and “some surgeries have been, and may continue to be, postponed,” spokeswoman Gretchen Papez said in an email.

The hospital association has said it reasonably anticipates reaching 1,400 hospitalized COVID-19 patients by the second week of August, at which point “clinical and nursing staffing shortages are an anticipated concern.”

Construction at UNLV Medical Education Building in the Las Vegas Medical District on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

‘Pandemic of the unvaccinated’

This recent surge is, however, hitting the vaccinated and unvaccinated unequally. 

Although recent data show that vaccinated individuals may be less protected against the Delta variant than previous variants of the virus, it is still unvaccinated individuals who are making up the vast majority of hospitalizations — or, in other words, experiencing the most serious cases of COVID-19. 

Data provided by the Southern Nevada Health District this week show that 89 percent of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, who are at even greater risk today for contracting the virus than they were a year ago because of the high transmissibility of the Delta variant. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recently warned it was becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

What has been particularly distressing for some health care providers this time around is how much younger their patient population is, a likely byproduct of the fact that a little more than half of adults aged 30 to 59 are vaccinated compared to more than three-quarters of those aged 60 and up. Last week, the hospital association noted in its weekly report that adults in that younger group made up 51 percent of recent COVID-19 hospital admissions, while older adults made up only 33 percent, a marked change from previous surges.

“The other thing that I hear, this is a common misconception when it comes to people who are hesitant to receive the vaccine, is that they are young, they’re healthy, they have no underlying conditions that predispose them to severe illness,” said Dr. Shadaba Asad, medical director of infectious disease at University Medical Center. “This is a very dangerous assumption to make, that just because I’m young and healthy, I’m not going to have a rough course with COVID.”

In Washoe County, two of the four confirmed deaths associated with the Delta variant were a man in his 30s and a woman in her 40s, both of whom were unvaccinated and had no underlying health conditions.

And the death toll in the state from COVID-19 is, once again, on the rise. In July, 231 people died from COVID-19 statewide, up from just 95 in June and 122 in May.

The most serious breakthrough cases that have resulted in hospitalization or death, meanwhile, have tended to be in those who are older and have underlying health conditions. Of the 178 serious breakthrough cases to date in Clark County, 71 percent have been in those 65 and older and 82 percent have had underlying conditions.

Since the beginning of the vaccination effort in mid-December, there have been 40 breakthrough deaths in Clark County, out of the more than 2,700 people who have died from COVID-19 in the county since then.

Asad said that UMC tends to be “very conservative” in its treatment of certain immunocompromised individuals, including transplant recipients, for COVID-19, sometimes hospitalizing them out of an abundance of caution in case their situation rapidly worsens.

“A lot of them are transplant patients. Sometimes they’re not very sick. It’s just that with transplant patients we are very very cautious so the moment they start experiencing any symptoms whatsoever we want to take care of them and make sure that they do well,” Asad said. “The other group that we see are cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy. Those patients, despite vaccination, do not really mount a very robust immune response, so typically if they contract breakthrough COVID infection, it can require hospitalization.”

The good news, though, is that most vaccinated people who come into the emergency room with COVID-19 are able to be sent home, some after receiving monoclonal antibody treatments. Scherr, the emergency medicine physician, said most of his patients with breakthrough cases of COVID-19 have had mild symptoms resembling no more than a cold.

“Even though you’re vaccinated and you have a chance to get COVID, your chances of being admitted to the hospital or having severe COVID is highly unlikely,” Scherr said. “They’re not likely to be admitted unless they have those comorbid conditions.”

But the only way to stop COVID-19 for good, doctors say, is through vaccination.

“The way I see it, the only way the pandemic is going to end is if we can convince more and more people to actually go ahead and get vaccinated,” Asad said. “I think listening to them carefully, acknowledging their concerns without wagging your finger at them and trying to sincerely address their questions is the way to go.”

Asad says it’s a difficult conversation to have with unvaccinated people who are already hospitalized, though. Most of her patients, she says, express regret at not having gotten the vaccine.

“It's something that you want to address delicately because you know that they're in a tough spot already,” Asad said. “They are sick. We don't know how this is going to end for them.”

Stickers as seen during a pop-up vaccination clinic at Hullum Homes Apartment Complex in Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Boosting shots

While public health and government officials at the local, state and federal levels have pleaded with people to get the jab over the last six months, surveys have shown that personal health care providers are one of the most trusted sources on the vaccine. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from December, for instance, found that 85 percent of people trust their doctor for reliable vaccine information.

That hasn’t, however, always played out in reality.

“I had two patients this morning who just didn’t feel like they needed to be vaccinated. I’m looking for answers. It’s difficult. You want to have conversations with people. You want to get them the best data,” said Dr. Andy Pasternak, a family medicine doctor in Reno. “We’re trying to answer questions, we’re trying to give people the information we think is the best information, but it’s tough when people trust other sources.”

Pasternak said most of his patients aren’t against vaccinations in general — one who didn’t want the COVID-19 vaccine was adamant about getting a shingles shot — but specifically the COVID-19 vaccine. Some, he said, are worried that the shot is still under emergency use authorization and will likely get the jab as soon as the FDA gives it full approval, which is expected in the coming weeks or months, while others have already had COVID. Others, still, just don’t want it at all.

But Pasternak hopes that his conversations with his patients is at least planting a seed, even if he isn’t able to change their mind in a day.

“I get why you have your belief system, but what is it going to take for you to believe in this vaccination? I’ve been asking that question ... and they can’t give you a good reason,” Pasternak said. “People have this personal belief system and it’s frankly hard to crack through.”

It’s not for lack of trying, though. In early July, the state requested help from the federal government to boost its vaccination efforts in Clark County in light of the rising tide of COVID-19 cases, and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, now has 200 boots on the ground with a goal to ramp up to 250. They have already distributed roughly 25,000 door hangers and are working with more than 30 community organizations to put on micro-targeted vaccine events, such as the one at Hullum Homes this week.

“Our responsibility is to ensure every Nevadan is aware of the opportunity to be vaccinated if they need to be,” said Mark Hughes, external affairs officer for FEMA. “That’s what really drives us, not a timeframe.”

It’s a collaborative effort, those involved in the vaccination effort say. Immunize Nevada, the nonprofit organization working with the state on the vaccination effort, does the research to identify areas where vaccinations are needed, including in areas with high rates of social vulnerability or where residents haven’t been able to access vaccination either because of transportation or other barriers. Meanwhile, some employees from the state Department of Health and Human Services serve as “branch directors” overseeing outreach within specific geographic regions of the Las Vegas Valley.

And it appears to be working, too. The data show that after weeks of declining vaccination rates, the number of average daily shots administered was up to 7,000 on Friday after hitting a low of 5,200 in mid-July. It’s still a far cry from the 30,000 shots a day the state was administering back in April, but it is some progress.

Heidi Parker, Immunize Nevada’s executive director, called FEMA an “incredible resource.”

“Being able to get those materials on the ground, the door hangers and other information, is really key to helping people understand that there is a clinic coming up in their neighborhood,” Parker said. “We’ve had people receive that door hanger with that clinic information. They know where it’s at, it’s nearby, and they know when, and they have shown up. It is having a positive impact.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak points to a map where the COVID-19 surge teams are concentrating on in Clark County during a news conference in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

A return to masks

There is broad agreement among public health officials in Nevada that vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But there has also been growing acknowledgement among both elected leaders and health care officials in the last two weeks that vaccination alone is no longer enough to deal with the current surge.

Just three weeks ago, Gov. Steve Sisolak told The Nevada Independent that no new mask mandate was on the horizon, even as some public health experts had already started advocating for the federal government or states to bring back masks.

“I'm confident that we can get the word out. We can get enough people vaccinated,” an unmasked Sisolak said in an interview after the state’s first vaccination awards event, known as Vax Nevada Days. “I don't want to take steps backwards.”

Then, last week, the Clark County Commission enacted a partial indoor mask mandate just for employees of businesses in the county.

Fast forward to Thursday, where a masked Sisolak explained to the audience at the fourth Vax Nevada Days event why Nevada was bringing back its indoor mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in a dozen of its counties.

“As many Nevadans are already aware, this week, due to the increase in the highly transmittable Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control recommended that everyone, including fully vaccinated individuals, wear a mask in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high transmission rates,” Sisolak told the crowd. “We can beat this, Nevada, but getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best tool that we have to slow COVID-19, to bring our case counts down and to protect our communities and protect our economy.”

To many — including some who were previously receptive toward mask-wearing — the new mask mandate, which took effect Friday, has been a bitter pill to swallow.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in May it was no longer recommending vaccinated people wear masks, the state immediately followed suit as it had aligned its mask requirements with federal guidance in an emergency directive earlier that month.

The doffing of the masks represented a collective catharsis: For the mask lovers, it represented a symbolic end to a pandemic they had worked so diligently to fight; for the mask haters, it was freedom. Part of the problem from a public health perspective, though, was that the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike dropped their masks just before a new, even more transmissible variant started spreading around town.

But the decision to tie state mask policy to federal guidance also meant that when the federal government recommended Tuesday that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals alike wear masks indoors in public settings in areas with high or substantial disease transmission, that policy immediately became binding under the May emergency directive. (A subsequent directive issued by Sisolak gave the state a three-day grace period to bring back masks in the dozen flagged counties.)

While some perceived the mask mandate as a clawback by the state of its pandemic emergency powers, mask policy was one mitigation measure the state retained control over when it handed over the pandemic policymaking reins to local governments this spring.

“When we went to local control, that remained with the governor’s office … That was before CDC changed their recommendation that eased restrictions for people that were vaccinated, that they no longer needed to wear masks. So the governor, and through his directive, went along with that change because it was made by a group of scientists that were looking at the body of science and assessing that and making that decision,” said Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick during a press call this week. “Again, today, we are in that same situation.”

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, who at the commission’s emergency meeting last week suggested the employee-only mask policy might not go far enough, said in an interview it was just a matter of time before the county had a broad indoor mask mandate.

“I think we knew it was going to have to happen. Either the state did it this week or we were going to have to do it next week. We were fine with the state stepping forward,” Jones said. “Everything was on the table. Our county plan incorporated CDC guidelines, so it was more than likely that we would have simply done the same thing.”

Jones said no one wants to be masking up, nor do elected officials want to have to compel people to do so.

“But the reality is with the Delta variant, it’s scary,” Jones said. “I think you’ve seen business come around, people come around to the fact that this is where we need to be right now in order to protect each other, to protect our families, protect our friends and coworkers.”

The mandate also follows a recommendation from the Southern Nevada Health District two weeks ago that vaccinated and unvaccinated people should mask up in indoor crowded settings.

“We’re asking everybody to do it because, to be frank, the honor system really hasn’t worked,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, director of community health for the Southern Nevada Health District. “When June came and a lot of these restrictions were lifted, you’d see these huge events here and elsewhere where nobody’s wearing a mask or anything.”

But those involved in the vaccination effort have been stressing that masking up is not a substitute for vaccination. Parker, the executive director of Immunize Nevada, described the new mask mandate as part of an effort to “break this cycle” of the current wave of COVID-19 cases and buy vaccinators time to get more shots in arms.

“Masking just adds that extra layer of protection and prevention,” she said.

A marquee at Caesars Palace on Saturday, March 27, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Looking forward

There is some hope among vaccinators that there will be an uptick in interest in vaccinations once the FDA issues full approval of the COVID-19 vaccines. In addition to a boost in individual interest in the shot, full approval may also give businesses and education systems the cover they need to implement vaccine mandates, which, while controversial, will likely offer a significant boost to the effort to get shots in arms, vaccinators say.

Some, however, aren’t waiting. The state of Nevada announced last week that state employees must show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly COVID tests, and MGM Resorts announced this week that all unvaccinated employees will have to pay a $15 copay for regular testing if they opt not to get the shot. Those involved in the vaccination effort say those policies could lay the groundwork for others to follow suit.

“Organizations like the NFL, MGM and others, by instituting some of the measures they recently have, are really sending a message on how important this is and to really get people’s attention,” Johnson said. “I could see potentially other organizations following their lead and doing similar or identical things. I think the combined effort of all of that is probably what’s going to get us out of the woods.”

In the meantime, what goes up must eventually come down. Last summer’s surge took about two months to peak, while the winter surge took about three.

“At some point, the surge is going to end because you run out of new people to infect. We’ve seen that with every wave,” Labus, the UNLV professor, said. “It kind of burns itself out.”

The concern is, without more vaccinations, COVID-19 waves will become a regular occurrence or, worse, the virus will mutate to evade the vaccines even more, become more transmissible and potentially make people even sicker. That’s why Pasternak says he and other primary care doctors he knows are spending an extra 30 to 45 minutes a day talking to patients about the vaccine.

“Sometimes it’s just going to take time,” Pasternak said. “Unfortunately, when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, we don’t have a lot of time.”

Clark County commissioners vote to require all employees to wear masks indoors at work

Employees of businesses across Clark County will be required to wear masks while working in indoor public spaces as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rapidly rise across the Las Vegas Valley.

The new mask mandate, which members of the Clark County Commission approved during an emergency meeting on Tuesday, will apply to all businesses in incorporated cities and unincorporated parts of the county and takes effect at the stroke of midnight on Thursday. Commissioners framed the decision, which they approved unanimously, as a way to buy time as health officials work to boost low vaccination rates in the county and hospitals continue to fill up with COVID-19 patients.

“We have to do something because we can't afford to allow hospitals to become [even worse] in terms of their crowding,” Commissioner Jim Gibson said.

Employees will be allowed to remove their masks while working alone in their office or another enclosed space but must wear one when entering and exiting those spaces. The mask mandate will remain in place at least through August 17, when county commissioners will evaluate what steps to take next.

The decision to reimpose a mask mandate, even just for employees, represents the most concrete action taken by local officials to respond to climbing case numbers in the county, after Southern Nevada Health District officials on Friday recommended — not required — all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks in crowded indoor public spaces. As of Tuesday, Clark County’s seven-day average case rate had climbed to 727, a number the county hasn’t seen since early February.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, in a statement on Tuesday, lauded Clark County’s decision.

“I support the Clark County Commission for using their local authority to issue this mitigation measure amid significant community transmission in Southern Nevada and as we continue our joint effort to increase access and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines,” Sisolak said. “The State remains completely committed to provide every resource and support available to all of our counties as we see a rise in cases among the unvaccinated, driven by the Delta variant.”

Though the commission was united in its decision, some commissioners voiced skepticism about whether a narrow mask mandate on employees would be enough to stem the rising tide of cases. Across the border in Los Angeles County, where case numbers are less than half of what is being seen in Clark County, residents are being required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

“I don't have a problem with this concept of moving forward today with requiring employees to be masked, but I don't pretend that I think that it's going to have much of an effect ... on transmission of the virus,” Commissioner Justin Jones said. “If the headline from this meeting is that we imposed a mandate on employees, then we will have failed.”

In an hour-long public comment period before the commission’s discussion, dozens of people berated the commission and promoted debunked conspiracy theories about masks, vaccines and the pandemic. Some, however, also shared emotional stories of the toll the last year has taken as they have lost jobs or businesses as a result of the pandemic-related shutdown last year. 

Small business owner Ben Cucio pleaded with commissioners not to close businesses again.

“People are not going to make any money and they’re not going to make any semblance of a reality having to face another shutdown,” Cucio said. “My business survived, but barely.”

Commissioners, in response, made clear they have no desire to close businesses.

“I don't think that anybody up here, including the health district, wants to shut down anything because that was hard for everybody,” Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick said.  “We're trying to figure out what are some things that we can do short term to slow it down.”

While cases are rising in many counties across the state, Clark County has borne the brunt of this recent surge, which experts attribute to its high population density and low vaccination rate as the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to spread. As of Tuesday, only 38 percent of Clark County residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to nearly 50 percent in Carson City, which leads the state in percentage of fully vaccinated residents.

Commissioners also voted on Tuesday to require businesses to post signage letting customers know about the health district’s indoor mask recommendation, though Commissioner Ross Miller said the county will have to take further action if people don’t start taking the recommendation seriously.

“We don't want to move towards reduction in capacity or face the consequences of other jurisdictions imposing restrictions on Las Vegas and see our economy shut down,” Miller said. “The public should have a very clear understanding that if they're not getting vaccinated, if they're not wearing masks — even though it's voluntary now, if they’re out in grocery stores and the places that the health district has identified — if the public is not inviting by those voluntary recommendations, this will have consequences.”

Beyond the mask mandate, the county commission voted to require large businesses, including casinos, malls and grocery stores, to submit plans to the county’s business department by Monday detailing how they plan to protect employees and customers. The decision comes against a backdrop of rising concern among those in the gaming industry that conventions may cancel if they believe not enough is being done to address the spread of cases in the county and as officials in some other states, including those in Los Angeles County, have advised against travel to Nevada. 

Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine voiced support for the indoor employee mask mandate during the public comment portion of the Tuesday meeting.

“Whatever you decide today, we ask that you provide written guidance and time to operationalize and communicate the requirements so that we can fully prepare and fully comply,” Valentine said.

The Vegas Chamber also voiced support for the mask mandate, with David Dazlich, government affairs director for the chamber, calling masks the “second most effective tool next to vaccinations” in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“We support a mask mandate to help curb transmission rates until we can up our vaccination rates throughout Clark County and finally relegate COVID-19 to the pages of medical history books next to preventable illnesses like smallpox and polio,” Dazlich said.

Our roads were built for cars, but a new law could start to make them safer for cyclists

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

The 81st Legislative session came to a close Monday night (updates later on in the newsletter). But first: A special shoutout to my colleagues Michelle Rindels, Riley Snyder and Tabitha Mueller who led our legislative coverage with major help from our interns Jannelle Calderón and Sean Golonka. I was in awe of the excellent work they did covering this unusual (half-virtual) but consequential session that ended with a (surprising or maybe not) mining tax. 

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here.


Throughout the last year, as COVID-19 restrictions limited transportation and exercise options,  more and more people turned to bikes. At this point, the trend has been well-documented in reports of bicycle shortages and in data released by exercise apps that track user fitness.

The trend is welcome news for cycling advocates and transportation planners who have long pushed to make neighborhoods more conducive for getting around using multiple modes of transportation. But it also underscored the need to make roads safer for all who rely on them.

The Nevada Office of Traffic Safety reported 10 cyclist fatalities and 83 pedestrian fatalities in 2020, with the large majority of them occurring in Clark County. That marked an increase from 2019, when there were seven cyclist fatalities and 70 pedestrian fatalities, according to the office.

Last year, on U.S. Highway 95 outside Las Vegas, a box truck killed five cyclists riding with a safety vehicle. It was a tragic incident, and the news rippled across the community — in Las Vegas and elsewhere. As John Glionna wrote in The New York Times this year, it galvanized activists to push for policies aimed at better protecting cyclists and pedestrians on the road. 

The Legislature meets for 120 days every other year. There are systemic issues that lawmakers must grapple with. The budget. Tax policy. Funding for education and health care. All of those things often grab the big headlines, for good reason. But lawmakers in Carson City also pass a flurry of subject-specific bills, often small tweaks that can make a hugely meaningful difference.

SB285 is one of those bills. The legislation, awaiting Gov. Steve Sisolak’s signature, aims to address bicycle and pedestrian safety by making a number of small (but significant) changes to statute. It’s not a panacea, but activists see it as a step in the right direction.

“The goal is to be as inclusive as possible,” said Senator Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor. “The road has to be shared by multiple modes of transportation, and we want to make sure everybody has the ability to get around the way that they so choose.”

Notably, the bill addresses an underlying issue: Driver’s ed. The fact is many people don’t know the rules of the roads for cyclists and pedestrians. SB285 requires driver’s education courses to incorporate rules for other types of transportation, including electric bikes and electric scooters. 

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, who worked on the bill, said Tuesday that “education is the most important piece of making sure that our cyclists and pedestrians are safe.” 

But education is only one element of the bill. The legislation also aims to address driving rules and infrastructure. Following what other states have done, the legislation allows drivers to pass bikes in a no-passing zone, if it is safe to do so. The legislation also spells out when it’s not safe for bikers to ride on the rightmost part of the lane — and can accordingly use the full lane.

Clark County, Jones noted, adopted a similar ordinance around managing traffic a few months ago. But, Jones said, “it’s an important step forward to have some baseline across the state.”

Finally, the legislation looks at how transportation is planned and constructed. It adds language around the implementation of “complete streets” programs, which aim to operate roads for all users and incorporate different types of transportation. SB285 states that projects undertaken through such programs must, when possible, “integrate bicycle lands and bicycle routes, facilities and signs into all plans, designs, construction and maintenance of roads.” In addition, the legislation requires designs to consider people of “all ages and abilities.”

“We understand that more people of more varied ages and abilities will start — or continue — to walk and bike when safer streets are provided through programs like complete streets,” Anne Macquarie, representing the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter, wrote in written testimony last month.

Several other pieces of legislation passed during the session could also make streets safer and more accommodating for different types of transportation. AB54, approved by Sisolak, would create an Advisory Committee on Traffic Safety within the Department of Transportation. AB343 would require large counties (Clark and Washoe) to submit plans to conduct “walking audits” of urban areas with an eye toward public health. And AB362 would allow Clark County’s regional transportation commission to provide microtransit as part of its slate of transportation options. 

Legislative reporter Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:


WATER AND LAND

Lake Mead’s changing shores: Arizona Republic reporter Ian James wrote an excellent piece about the on-the-ground impacts of water-level declines. “At the bustling marinas in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the shifting shorelines require costly and elaborate work: pulling the marinas out with cables and winches, extending power lines and fuel lines, using divers to unhook giant concrete anchors and dispatching barges to lower new anchors into the water.” 

  • An inside look at the Hoover Dam holding back less and less water (Arizona Republic)
  • “Climate science indicates that there will likely be less water in the Colorado River than many had hoped. This is inconvenient for 21st-century decision-makers, and overcoming their resistance may be the hardest challenge of all.” In a new editorial, John Fleck, the director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, and Brad Udall, a climate researcher at Colorado State University, stress the need to allow science to guide Colorado River planning and incorporate “worst-case” climate scenarios.
  • Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger testifies on the “real and urgent” drought conditions facing the Colorado River. (Nevada Current)

Picking a new Southern California water chief: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California considered former water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy to lead the agency. Los Angeles Times reporter Sammy Roth has more on the contested vote and what it means. 

Legislation to require wildlife plans with development: The Legislature passed AB211, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), aimed at protecting wildlife. The bill requires developers to submit plans about how they intend to offset new development on species habitat. Brian Bahouth, with the Sierra Nevada Ally, has more on the legislation. 

Douglas County commissioners declare drought conditions, via Carson Now.

  • PBS Newshour’s William Brangham and Courtney Norris on the western drought. From the report: “2021 is shaping up to potentially be the driest of all of the drought years in the last century, and definitely one of the driest of the last millennium.”

“We’ve recovered mastodons:” Capital Public Radio’s Rich Ibarra writes about the discovery of an exhaustive fossil deposit. It’s located in California at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.


MINING AND ENERGY

A mining tax compromise: In the final days of the legislative session, a deal emerged on a mining tax that avoided advancing one of three proposed constitutional amendments, which would have gone before voters. My colleagues Riley Snyder and Michelle Rindels reported on the deal, how it advanced and why several Republicans came to vote for the new mining tax. We’ll have more reporting on the tax, what it means and who it affects in the coming weeks.

Energy policy advances out of the Legislature: A major bill SB448, focused on transmission and electric vehicle infrastructure, passed and is on Sisolak’s desk. Riley Snyder wrote more about the bill, and we’ll have a follow-up coming out on that soon. On Monday, the Senate also approved AB383, which sought to address energy efficiency standards in appliances.

Groups file injunction to stop lithium mine: Conservation groups want a federal court judge to issue an injunction that would prevent any construction of the Thacker Pass mine after they said negotiations with land managers and a company fell apart. (Great Basin Resource Watch)

CLIMATE CHANGE

How auto dealers are viewing the state’s efforts to increase emission standards, via the Nevada Current’s Jeniffer Solis. The state held a session on its clean car initiative last week. 

The Truckee Meadows Community College was featured in an Inside Higher Ed piece a few weeks ago looking at how campuses are preparing for the effects of climate change.

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.

As time ticks on current relief, Las Vegas judge blocks Sisolak's attempt to label evictions 'non-essential'

Members of the Clark County Commission are exploring their options to stave off evictions after a judge rejected a request from Gov. Steve Sisolak's office to label evictions as "non-essential" and halt the proceedings as part of broader, COVID-related closures of the Las Vegas Justice Court.

The state is anticipating a flood of evictions after the first of the year when the federal eviction moratorium and CARES Act — which has provided millions of dollars in rental assistance — expire.

The federal eviction moratorium from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention requires tenants to meet several qualifications as opposed to Sisolak's now-expired blanket moratorium on evictions, which Nevada Legal Aid Policy Director Bailey Bortolin has described as "one of the best ones in the country" because it was "comprehensive" and covered late fees. The federal protections have covered a more limited population in the courts than tenant advocates would like, leading to thousands of evictions in Nevada since the state moratorium expired. 

"Many landlords have just decided to try their luck, and see if they can convince you that you should leave, see if they can get a court to decide with them that the protections don't apply to you and grant the evictions," Bortolin said during a virtual forum with progressive advocacy group Battle Born Progress on Thursday.

Though Sisolak has stopped short of issuing another statewide eviction moratorium, his office has tried to halt evictions in Las Vegas through a letter to Suzan Baucum, chief justice of the Las Vegas Justice Court, expressing concerns about overcrowding at the Las Vegas Justice Court and labeling evictions as "non-essential" during the statewide pause.

"The overcrowding of people within the LVJC during this statewide pause is a public health issue, and the Governor urges you to direct that all in-person appearances (including evictions) be suspended during this statewide pause for the express purpose of helping to contain the spread of COVID-19," reads the letter from Sisolak senior adviser Scott Gilles.

Following Sisolak's latest round of mitigation measures as the coronavirus ravages the state, Baucum ordered several measures to be taken in the justice court to reduce social contact in the court, including postponing some hearings until the order expires on Jan. 4, but left "essential" cases, including eviction proceedings, to continue in-person or through alternatives ways "when possible."

In her response to the governor's office, first reported by the Nevada Current, Baucum wrote that Sisolak's latest mitigation measures did not specifically reference evictions and that the state's moratorium on evictions has expired, leaving no requirement for the court to suspend eviction hearings.

Although the CDC moratorium provides some protections for tenants, Baucum stated that it does not provide a "blanket prohibition on evictions." She also wrote that she's spoken to Justice Court judges who are continuing to hear eviction cases and that any restrictions on evictions should be made on a statewide basis rather than in just one or some of the 40 individual justice courts in the state.

"Unless Governor Sisolak imposes another moratorium relating to evictions or the other case types and hearings deemed 'essential,' I am not inclined to impose additional restrictions beyond those already imposed," Baucum’s letter reads. 

A spokeswoman for the governor did not respond to requests on Thursday and Friday for comment on any additional statewide moratorium.

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones said during the Battle Born Progress forum that Baucum's decision to deem evictions as essential was "frustrating." Jones, who said he worked with the governor's office to have it intervene with the Las Vegas Justice Court, put Baucum's decision in context with Sisolak's continuing pleas for Nevadans to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.

"It's really hard to stay home if you don't have a home. If you're kicked out of your home, you can't stay home," he said.

Jones said he's been working with the district attorney and fellow commissioners Tick Segerblom and Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick to see what options are possible to stop evictions, including the possibility of using the commission's emergency powers. 

But for some, relief has been secured at least through January 2021. 

On Wednesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced it would extend its foreclosure moratorium for those with mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the end of January after previously extending the aid through the end of the year. Although the extension won't help all renters, Jones said the relief will help prevent foreclosures and their corresponding evictions for tens of thousands of homeowners in Clark County.

Jones encouraged renters in need of relief to apply for aid before the year ends. Clark County has secured around $100 million in rental assistance and has already distributed $56 million of it, leaving $44 million left to spend before the end of the year, according to Jones. 

Washoe County has set aside about $6.6 million for rental assistance, including funds from the City of Reno and Sparks, with $1.4 million left to spend, according to the most recent numbers.

State leaders have raised questions not only about how the economy and uncertainty of further aid will affect tenants who risk losing their homes, but landlords and the housing market overall. Members of the Economic Forum discussed the matter this week as they forecasted state revenue.

“At some point, banks are going to want to get their money back out of those houses that have mortgages on this,” said forum member Jennifer Lewis. “And that seems sort of inevitable so that's going to create some churn.”

Susanna Powers of the Governor’s Finance Office, however, said conditions were better than what they were when the Great Recession spurred widespread foreclosures in Nevada. This time, it’s likelier that distressed homeowners have equity in their property and can sell into a favorable market instead of foreclosing. 

Reno Councilwoman Naomi Duerr emphasized the importance of supporting landlords as well as tenants and said she’s seen cooperation from most Reno landlords during the pandemic.

"They want to keep people in, they want to work with people, and they are willing to accept the vouchers and accept the rental systems," she said.

In the South, Jones said the county has been working directly with landlords to streamline the process of rental assistance to benefit both tenants and landlords.

"It's just a single page form that they can have their own tenant fill out, so we can get those dollars out the door as quickly as possible and into the hands of both landlords and tenants," he said.

Jones encouraged Nevadans to reach out to their representatives and emphasize the importance of securing more aid.

"Every day that goes by is a day that someone's gonna get kicked out of their home. It's a day that somebody goes hungry," he said. "It's a day that a small business owner is, unfortunately, has to close the doors and fire all the employees who are then going to face the same type of issues that everyone else is facing."

Beyond the pandemic, lawmakers and advocates are looking for long-term solutions to evictions in the state.

"We have one of the most landlord-friendly eviction laws in the entire country," Jones said, noting that as a landlord himself, he understands their struggles. "We need to make sure that it's a fair process that a landlord can't just throw up a notice and kick somebody out a few days later." 

Michelle Rindels contributed to this story.

PHOTOS: Volunteers attempt to spread joy ahead of a pandemic-era Thanksgiving

The holiday season, a normally joyous time filled with social get-togethers, has arrived.

How will it look? How will it feel? How will it affect already rising COVID-19 numbers?

Like it or not, we are about to find out, and this much we know is true:

Thanksgiving gatherings may be smaller as family and friends try to safeguard loved ones from an unpredictable virus. Food offerings may be limited as households experience economic uncertainty and pandemic-triggered job losses. And for thousands more this year, there may be an empty seat at the table because of a father, mother, aunt, uncle, son, daughter, friend or cousin who died — whether it be related to COVID-19, a separate illness or another tragedy.

So before the feasting and thanks-filled day arrived, volunteers and organizations across Southern Nevada tried to ease the silent burdens people may be carrying by providing meals to anyone in need. The vehicles lined up, and the volunteers donned face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment. The Nevada Independent photographer Daniel Clark captured some of the scenes in the lead-up to Thanksgiving Day.

A National Guardsman directs traffic at a food distribution event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Traffic congestion as seen at Cashman Center in Las Vegas, where COVID-19 testing and a food distribution event were being held on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas distribute donated food during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones distributes donated food to people at a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Desert Breeze Community Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Volunteers distribute donated food to people during a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Desert Breeze Community Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones distributes donated food with Congresswoman Susie Lee at a contactless Thanksgiving dinner pickup event at Desert Breeze Community Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Head Chef Reolito Lao cuts plums for his special stuffing recipe inside the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada kitchen in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Gustavo Ramirez cuts turkey inside the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada kitchen in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Gustavo Ramirez cuts turkey inside the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada kitchen in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Pumpkin pies await packaging inside the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada kitchen in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Jennifer Bell cuts up pumpkin pies inside the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada kitchen in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)
Kandy Miller cuts up pumpkin pies inside the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada kitchen in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Indy Environment: Las Vegas is updating its urban plans. Why that matters for addressing climate change.

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here. 

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com.


By 2050, Southern Nevada is expected to grow to almost three million people. Yet the guiding urban planning document for Clark County — its Master Plan — has not been comprehensively updated since 1983, when about 505,000 people lived in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.

It’s time for an update. On that, everyone agrees. Earlier this year, the state’s most populous county launched a public initiative to rewrite its Master Plan and Development Code. The effort is known as “Transform Clark County,” and it’s meant to spell out a vision for Las Vegas in the coming decades — to set up the expectations for growth and place rules around development.

To most people, the phrase “rewrite its Master Plan and Development Code” might sound like it  is deep in the weeds of local government, the sort of term that might only be discussed at a late-night Planning Commission meeting that has already gone on too long. Although it might not be typical cocktail chatter, the undertaking is hugely important. The detailed planning efforts offer a significant opening to address climate change and to correct past planning injustices.

Through the Nevada Climate Initiative, state agencies are developing a climate strategy due Dec. 1. But it’s local governments and regional agencies that are often on the frontlines. Their decisions — about development, zoning, energy codes, transportation — can lessen climate impacts or amplify them. They can help guide development and decide where the money goes. 

“To me, climate change is everything,” said Jasmine Vazin, a clean transportation organizer with the Sierra Club and part of the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition, which is fighting sprawl. “Every single car on our road, except [electric vehicles], contribute to our worsening air quality.”

If done right, she said the Master Plan rewrite “can be a very important document for pushing for progressive reforms in urban planning” — an opportunity to incentivize infill development and to create multi-modal transportation in a city that grew outward around cars. But Vazin stressed that decision-makers must hear from communities, especially ones historically affected by poor planning.

“If we had community input from all of our communities, then we could have a just transition and a just redevelopment of areas, like West Las Vegas, that were historically redlined,” she said.

In looking at climate change in Nevada, Clark County is front-and-center. About 72 percent of the state’s population lives in the county, and climate change is expected to increase the days with extreme heat, a trend that could worsen existing inequality in urban neighborhoods. 

Still, the fact that a conversation around climate change is happening in tandem with planning for new growth is a notable development. Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones has pushed for a simultaneous countywide climate action planning process known as “All-In Clark County.”

It marks a significant step, Jones said. In the past, climate change had not been a central focus for the county, but Jones said it deserves more consideration when the commission makes policy.

Every time the county changes an ordinance on issues that are not related to zoning and planning, it is required by law to conduct a business impact statement. Yet there is often little consideration of the climate impacts — and they can be large.

“We do a good job considering the impacts to business,” said Jones, who was elected to the commission in 2018. “We also, for many decisions, need to consider the impact on climate.”

At the same time Clark County is starting its planning process, the city of Las Vegas is finishing its updated Master Plan. Marco Velotta, a senior management analyst with the city, said that the plan was a departure from past approaches. He said the city placed an emphasis on looking at how systems — transportation, land use, water and housing — interacted with one another.

“This was a totally different approach to how we put together the entire plan,” he said.

Undergoing a comprehensive planning process can, in and of itself, reveal climate issues that should be addressed. For instance, Velotta noted that geographic data pointed to a disparity in which communities faced more heat. Neighborhoods like Summerlin West were a few degrees cooler, on average, than areas closer to Las Vegas’ urban core with more low-income residents.

“From an equity standpoint, that’s a huge problem,” he said.

In any plan, climate organizers stressed the need for broad participation. Vazin, along with the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition, has pushed Clark County to do additional outreach.

Respondents of a Transform Clark County survey, which solicited feedback on several topics, were mostly white and affluent, according to the results. It led Vazin to ask: “Is that the only demographic that we want to be building our future on?” A later survey, with a Spanish option, yielded results from a more diverse group, but the results still do not reflect the full population. 

Dexter Lim, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, echoed these concerns and said he wanted to see a Master Plan revision with input that matched the demographics of the county.

"It could be another 50 years before we look at this again,” he said.

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:


Late-season fires: Multiple fires ignited in Northern Nevada and California Tuesday evening as fierce winds whipped through a region where there was already dry fuel. The Pinehaven Fire, in southwest Reno, burned through a suburban area — it destroyed five homes and damaged 15 — and sent smoke billowing across the city. The Reno Gazette Journal has more coverage.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. But the fire burned with high winds in an area with dry conditions (Reno set a record of no precipitation in September and October). It’s hard to pin any one fire to climate change or make a direct link in this case. But overall, warming in the West has meant a longer and more extreme fire season, said Tim Brown, director of the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute. He said that, in general, he likes to think of it this way: “climate enables fire, weather drives fire.” Climate trends set up the underlying conditions for fire, increasing the risk, but weather often dictates how a fire will move. Brown said the way cities are built can also come into play as more people are living in what is known as the Wildland-Urban Interface, the area where houses begin to blend with the natural landscape. “It’s as much of a people concern as it is a climate change concern,” Brown said.

A new carmaker alliance: “One of the stranger things that has happened during the Trump administration—a category with no small amount of competition—is that the car industry and the oil industry have grown to resent each other,” writes The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer. With global demand for electric vehicles, car companies have forged new alliances. On Tuesday, about 30 companies (Tesla, Uber, Rivian), electric utilities (PG&E, Duke Energy) and lithium developers (more on that in a second) announced a new trade group: The Zero Emission Transportation Association, or ZETA. Its goal is to lobby Congress for policies that make car sales all-electric by 2030. Notably, ZETA’s founding members include several lithium mining companies and a trade association for the copper industry. Among those mining companies is Albemarle, which runs the only U.S. lithium operation outside of Tonopah, and ioneer Ltd, a lithium miner eyeing a project (also near Tonopah) that has faced pushback from environmental groups and ecologists. The proposed mine poses a threat to a rare buckwheat species found only on about 10 acres.

  • Mining, Biden and electrification: “With Biden proposing to hasten the demise of coal and other fossil fuels with his $2 trillion climate plan, miners of so-called strategic metals are hoping Biden’s team sees them as partners, not foes,” reports Reuters. Electrifying the grid is going to require a lot of lithium and copper, among other minerals, and the industry is already lining up to make the case for mining projects on federal public land, including the ioneer project and another proposed lithium mine north of Winnemucca. 

What the solar industry is asking for: The solar industry’s top trade association is prioritizing the renewal of a federal tax credit and changes to trade policy as it prepares for the incoming Biden administration and a new Congress, Greentech Media’s Emma Foehringer Merchant reports. You can read the Solar Energy Industries Association’s full policy agenda here

Geotagging, gatekeeping and access: Wyoming Public Radio’s Maggie Mullen takes a thoughtful look at the backlash to geotagging on social media and the evolving conversation around the issue of sharing natural places. Can anti-geotagging be a form of gatekeeping?

The new battle: As demand for coal declines, environmentalists are focusing their attention on natural gas. The Los Angeles Times’ Sammy Roth looks at some of the fault lines developing, at the national level, over transitioning from natural gas. Meanwhile, states bordering Nevada are debating natural gas policies. California cities and counties have moved to prohibit natural gas in new homes. Utah, following Arizona’s lead, is the latest state in the West, to consider banning local governments from taking such action, Brian Maffly reports for the Salt Lake City Tribune. 

Update: This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2020 to indicate that business impact statements are not required for planning and zoning ordinances.

Election Preview: Democrats largely lead in funding for seats on the state’s most powerful board

Clark County Government Center

Nevada’s most powerful local government body has been faced with major challenges this year, including a budget slashed as a result of a pandemic-induced economic downturn and the pressure of helping to reopen the economy in the state’s most populous county.

Ten candidates are entering the final weeks of their campaigns for the Clark County Commission, campaigns begun months before COVID-19 was on their radar. Democrats are dramatically outpacing their challengers in funding for three of these spots while a fourth is host to a high-dollar contest between two high profile politicians.

Of the commission’s seven seats, four are being contested this cycle, including those of the commission’s chair, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, in District B and incumbent Michael Naft, who’s raised more than $1 million since his 2019 appointment to the board, in District A. 

Crowded Democratic primaries in Districts C and D have whittled the field to two high profile nominees. In District C, Democrat and former Secretary of State Ross Miller is taking on Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, a Republican challenger in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, but neither party holds a majority.

District D sees Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II take on three nonpartisan opponents, with former Las Vegas fire chief David Washington putting up the strongest fight. McCurdy has been heavily endorsed and financially backed by commission members in the only up-for-grabs district with a Democratic majority of registered voters.

Commission members earn $86,000 per year, far more for their positions than state legislators make for their part time work, and whoever wins a seat on this board will oversee three quarters of the state’s population and one of its most famous and lucrative assets — the Las Vegas Strip.

District C

District C, which incorporates the northwest portion of the Las Vegas Valley, is host to a high-spending faceoff between Republican Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony and the former secretary of state, Democrat Ross Miller.

Democrats make up 38 percent of registered voters in District C while Republicans make up 32 percent and nonpartisans account for 23. Democrat Larry Brown, who currently holds the seat, has reached his term limit after serving on the board since 2009. 

Anthony, who was recently appointed mayor pro tem for the City of Las Vegas, is fighting to overcome Democrat’s slight registration lead and take the seat back for his party. The city councilman ran unopposed in June’s primary election while Miller won a six-Democrat race for the nomination with 38 percent of the vote.

Miller has been critical of his Republican opponent, condemning him on Twitter for statements Anthony made about holding “violent rioters” in Jean prison following Black Lives Matter protests in June and referring to the councilman as a “Trump crony.”

“I think there’s two issues that, in my mind, people care about,” Miller said during an interview with The Nevada Independent. “One is how to put the economy back on track and the other is making sure we keep people safe, both in terms of public health and also public safety. In both of those areas, I’ve got a lot of experience.”

Clark County Commission candidate Ross Miller.

When asked about his experience with economic issues and how he’d handle budget shortages in the county, Miller, the son of former Gov. Bob Miller, referenced his time serving on the Board of Economic Development under former Gov. Brian Sandoval as well as his two-term tenure as secretary of state during the last economic recession.

“My agency implemented deeper cuts than perhaps any other… and there weren’t easy answers,” he said. “We had to cut in all areas. I would imagine that the county process will be very similar.”

One department he believes should be prioritized when it comes to funding, Miller says, is the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. The Clark County Commission along with the Las Vegas City Council determines the budget of the LVMPD, and the county contributes 64 percent of its funding.

Miller shares this viewpoint with his opponent. Anthony, a retired police captain who worked with Metro for 29 years.

Clark County Commission candidate Stavros Anthony.

“My priority is to make sure that Metro is funded appropriately,” Anthony said. “That we have the best paid and the best equipped and the best trained police officers in the country and that we have code enforcement officers that are out there making sure that we have great neighborhoods.”

Although both candidates say public safety funding is vital to helping District C recover from the economic devastation of COVID-19, they have different priorities when it comes to helping the region become more economically resilient moving forward.

Anthony said that his priority, first and foremost, is opening businesses and getting people back to work. He intends to focus on reducing regulations, taxes, and licensing fees in order to help current businesses grow and encourage new businesses to open.

“Once people get back to work then they can start taking care of their families and they can start paying their tax bills,” he said, going on to emphasize that government mandates “have to start opening up” to allow people to get back to work. At the moment in the county, restaurants, stores, and event venues still have capacity limits in place to ensure social distancing.

“I think if businesses want their customers to wear a mask in their business, customers are going to want to wear a mask,” Anthony said.

Miller indicated that his approach may be more cautious, deferring to state guidance that he believes will ensure businesses “reopen safely,” while still acknowledging the need to reopen the economy for workers.

“I think it’s critical both to expand as safely as possible and try to reopen our economy,” he said.

According to Miller, the county needs to set its sights on long-term solutions that will ensure economic diversity and prevent losses in gaming from devastating the region.

“We can potentially move much more aggressively towards the development of many other target sectors,” Miller said. “Beyond gaming, where we’ve suffered so many layoffs.”

Both candidates have reported large contributions and high spending in the second quarter of the year. Anthony’s spending began even earlier: the candidate reported more than $200,000 in spending heading into the primary — even though he was running unopposed.

In the second quarter, Anthony reported $45,700 in contributions including major donations from NV Energy, developer Touchstone Living, which regularly presents development projects to the planning commission, and philanthropist Kris Engelstad McGarry, trustee of the Engelstad Family Foundation. He spent more than $63,000 on consulting and advertising in the same quarter and reported a cash on hand balance of nearly $212,000.

Miller has also seen large donations from developers, including $5,000 from Brass Cap Development, which recently began construction on a new industrial space located near Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, a project approved by the commission. Both candidates also received $5,000 donations from South Point. Miller received financial support from the Southern Nevada Building Trades Union’s PAC. The union also endorsed Miller in the race.

Additionally, Miller received a $5,000 donation from the campaign of the commission’s District F incumbent, Justin Jones.

Miller’s campaign reported $89,741 in spending, more than $74,000 of which went to Consili, Inc., a Democratic campaign management agency based in Las Vegas and run by political consultant Jim Ferrence. At the end of quarter two, Miller’s cash on hand balance was $3,640.

District D

In the heavily Democratic District D, which includes portions of North Las Vegas as well as downtown Las Vegas’ Fremont Street, Assemblyman and Nevada Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II is hoping to transition from Legislature to the County Commission. 

He faces three nonpartisan challengers on his quest, including a former Las Vegas fire chief with a history of community involvement, David Washington. Henry Thorns and Stanley Washington are also campaigning for the seat without a party affiliation.

McCurdy, who has represented District 6 in the Nevada Assembly since 2017, says that he sees “untapped potential” in Clark County’s District D.

Clark County Commission candidate William McCurdy II.

“I’m passionate about my district. I’ve been here my entire life as well in residence, and my family, it’s where my family has been since the early 40s,” McCurdy said. “I believe that we haven’t achieved our truest potential in terms of economic development or economic investment, and I believe that we can do a better job in terms of the social infrastructure.”

McCurdy pointed to long-term economic development focused on highlighting the district’s culture and ethnic diversity, expanding workforce development in order to help the area’s homeless population on their path to self-sufficiency, and improving resources for seniors in the region as some of his major goals if he’s elected.

While the pandemic has not changed those goals for him, he says it has changed his timeline, as his short-term focus is on providing his constituents with resources to help with the health and economic impacts of the virus. He says that his experience in the Legislature during the first several months of this crisis will position him perfectly to do this.

“My legislative experience will help me to be able to perform and be ready to go, day one,” he said. “COVID has greatly altered the way that I would have been going in, but having an ability to deal with that at a legislative level, work really closely with lawmakers who are helping us get the resources that we need from the federal level, will perfectly position me to be the greatest advocate that I can.”

McCurdy reported more than $88,000 in contributions in the second quarter of the year, including a $10,000 donation from the campaign of District A incumbent Naft.

Naft isn’t the only commission incumbent to show financial support for the assemblyman, who also received a $5,000 donation from District F incumbent Jones. McCurdy also received a $10,000 donation from the Southern Nevada Stronger PAC, which lists Jones as its main contact. The campaign also reported donations in the second quarter from Eva Segerblom and Carl Segerblom, two children of District E incumbent Tick Segerblom.

McCurdy’s campaign has spent $80,714 during this same period on office expenses, consulting and advertising fees, and special event costs. More than $10,000 in expenses were reported by the campaign for Consili, Inc., the same agency utilized by both Miller and Naft.

While Thorns and Stanley Washington have reported no contributions, spending, or cash on hand in either of the year’s first two quarters, David Washington has had a more financially active campaign.

Washington reported $6,915 in donations to the campaign last quarter and spent $6,751 in the same period. The majority of his spending went towards advertising expenses and a special event held in June at Chili’s Grill and Bar in Las Vegas. The candidate’s campaign reported a cash on hand balance of $11,841 at the end of June.

Clark County Commission candidate David Washington.

David Washington is a member of the Clark County Economic Opportunity Board, which administers Economic Opportunity Act funding to create programs and provide resources with the goal of helping low-income families achieve self-sufficiency. In an email to The Nevada Independent, David Washington said he is running for the position because of his experience in public safety as a fire chief.

“I have 29 years experience in a leadership role where I was responsible for budgets and staff supervision. Eight years, I served at the senior staff level. My last six years, I served as fire chief for the City of Las Vegas with a $100 million dollar budget,” Washington said. 

He also cited his time on the Governor’s Commission on Homeland Security. The fire chief of each county in the state with a population above 100,000 has a seat on the commission, and Washington fulfilled that role during his time with the department.

If elected to the commission, Washington says, he would attempt to help the county recover economically by continuing policies such as the county’s decision to suspend labor contracts in April, a decision that Washington praised. When asked about his budget priorities, he referred to public safety as a “big expense to any government agency” but said he would need to review all department’s budgets before deciding what to preserve and what to cut.

While McCurdy said he didn’t feel comfortable citing specific budget priorities, his views on how to better position the county to be more resilient in the future focus less on economics and more on social services. The candidate referenced better equipping food distribution sites as well as expanding programs to help those in danger of and struggling with homelessness as essential to creating a more resilient region.

“There were some people who were already one paycheck shy of losing it all,” the Democratic candidate said. “So, what kind of services can we provide him and what kind of emergency funds do we have put up that we can work with our community stakeholders and partners to capture those folks before they lose their home?”

The District D seat is held by the commission’s vice chairman, Lawrence Weekly, who has reached his term limit this year. It is the only district with a contested seat this cycle with a Democratic majority, with Democrats making up 50 percent of active registered voters while nonpartisans come in second with 25 percent and Republicans trail at 13 percent.

Neither Henry Thorns nor Stanley Washington responded to attempts to reach them for interviews for this story.

District A

In District A in the south of the county, incumbent Michael Naft is defending his seat against Republican challenger Michael Thomas, spending more than any other candidate for the board in an effort to preserve what he calls his role as his “neighbor’s representative.”

“I believe it is my responsibility to help make Clark County more accessible and user-friendly, and have been devoted to providing the services people need,” Naft said in an email to The Nevada Independent.

Clark County Commission candidate Michael Naft.

Naft, who was appointed to his seat in 2019 by Gov. Steve Sisolak, faced one opponent in the Democratic primary whom he defeated, garnering 74 percent of the vote. Democrats make up 39 percent of active registered voters in his district while Republicans make up 31 percent and nonpartisans account for 25 percent.

Naft has been spending heavily throughout his campaign, reporting more than $343,000 in expenses since January, including more than $194,000 in quarter two alone. His spending has been on a variety of things such as events at local businesses, consulting fees with multiple campaign strategy agencies both local and national, and contributions to other Democratic campaigns, including District D candidate William McCurdy.

Naft also saw many large donations during the second quarter, reporting $107,000 in contributions, the most of any commission candidate. He’s received major donations from NV Energy, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Henderson Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Service Employees Union.

The incumbent has also been endorsed by the Culinary Union, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association and the Nevada Conservation League, among others. His reported cash on hand balance is $754,279.

Naft says that serving on the commission during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed “everything” about his priorities for the county.

“I have responded to this health crisis with a two-pronged approach … We have focused on managing health and wellness as a means to mitigate the economic impact,” he said. “I have advocated for utilizing a portion of our federal allocation of CARES Act dollars to help our local small business community.  By awarding grants to local businesses we have been able to support the people they employ and the businesses they work with.”

Naft’s opponent, Michael Thomas, a retired police officer, has reported no contributions, spending, or cash on hand in either quarter this year. Thomas ran for the District A seat against then-incumbent Sisolak in 2016 as well, receiving 43 percent of the vote.

Thomas did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

District B

Democratic Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick is running a re-election campaign in northern Clark County’s District B against two opponents, Independent Warren Markowitz and Republican Kevin Williams.

Kirkpatrick has served on the commission since 2015 and was voted in as chair in 2019. Although the short-term needs of the county have changed in the past several months, Kirkpatrick says the pandemic has not changed her long-term priorities for the region.

Clark County Commission candidate Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

“We have to continue to move forward … There [are] some things that I might have to push aside for a little bit,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that it has impacted our priorities. More so, probably, highlighted the need for the priority.”

Kirkpatrick was the only candidate for the seat to report contributions and spending during the first two quarters of the year. She has held the seat since 2015 and previously served as a Nevada assemblywoman. She has received major endorsements from Nevada state AFL-CIO, the Culinary Union, and the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, among others.

The chair listed public safety and the police department as one of her top two priorities when it comes to funding in the county. Her second major priority, she says, is social services, including programs addressing homelessness and truancy that she has spearheaded during her time on the board. The county provides social services throughout the region, for every city in the county in addition to unincorporated areas.

“We also have a huge responsibility to ensure social services needs are met,” she said. “And we are really the safety net for many, many constituents out there, regardless of what entity they live in.”

During quarter two, Kirkpatrick reported $31,850 in contributions including a $1,500 donation from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. 

The candidate also received $30,000 in the first two quarters from six companies that are all registered with the same Republic Services address in Las Vegas. The waste management company has a franchise agreement with the county and with the City of Las Vegas and operates the region’s landfill.

Kirkpatrick said that she does not think any companies have “tried” to give over the contribution limit and that the Republic Services contract with the county was in place “long before” she started on the commission. The company’s current agreement with the county was put in place in 1999 and extends through 2035.

“I don’t look at my campaign contributions, and, in that respect, it doesn’t get anybody any more than my constituents,” she said.

The chair has spent more than $78,000 this quarter on a variety of expenses related to special events, office supplies and consulting. She reported nearly $16,000 in expenses paid to Accretive Consulting, a firm based in Las Vegas and owned by Kami Dempsey-Goudie. Her cash on hand balance at the end of June was $289,520.

Similar to District A, Democrats make up a plurality but not a majority of voters in District B. Active registered voters in the region are 40 percent Democrat, 31 percent Republican and 23 percent nonpartisan. Additionally, 4 percent of voters in the district are registered with the Independent American Party.

Markowitz, a member of the Independent American Party, is a Las Vegas attorney and founder of the Markowitz Law Firm. The candidate says that he’s running to “return the county and it’s government back to the electorate without playing favorites.”

Clark County Commission candidate Warren Ross Markowitz.

One of the candidate’s major priorities is reopening the county, both by allowing businesses to resume operations at full capacity and opening schools in the Clark County School District, which are currently employing an online learning model.

“I would advance the concept of reversing the quarantine of the healthy, to that of the sick by moving to open businesses to their full capacity, removing feel good ideas that have little or no benefit, and getting schools back open,” he said in an email to The Nevada Independent.

The commission has oversight of business operations and can set stricter standards than the state but has to abide by minimum statewide standards that set capacity limits. The board also does not make decisions about school policies in the region; those decisions are made by the board of trustees.

Markowitz has run for a variety of seats in the past, including unsuccessful campaigns for state Senate, state controller, Clark County School Board trustee and the District B seat on the commission in 2012.

Republican candidate Williams, the facility director for Boyd Gaming, also ran for the seat against Kirkpatrick in 2016, receiving 42 percent of the vote. While he didn’t report any contributions or spending during the first two quarters of the year, his quarter three report shows $250 in contributions and $34 in expenses, leaving the candidate with a cash on hand balance of $148 at the end of September.

Williams did not respond to requests for interviews for this story.

This story was updated on October 14, 2020, at 12:05 p.m. to include comments from District B candidate Warren Ross Markowitz.

Sisolak proposes car emission standards, in line with California, as part of effort to combat climate change

Gov. Steve Sisolak and state environmental officials are proposing a set of regulations that would adopt California’s standards for low or zero-emission vehicles by 2024 as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Sisolak made the announcement on Monday that the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would seek to adopt clean car standards used by California and 14 other states requiring dealerships to sell a certain percentage of low or zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2024.

In a news release, state officials and Sisolak said the regulations — called the “Clean Cars Nevada” initiative — would be further developed through a series of public workshops over the next year and that they were designed to avoid forcing anyone to “give up their current vehicle or choose one that does not work for their lifestyle or business needs.”

“Now more than ever, it is critical for Nevada to continue accelerating efforts to address climate change including capturing the many benefits of sustainable transportation options for Nevadans,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Now is the time to set a new trajectory that will lead to healthier communities across the Silver State and establish Nevada as a leader in the clean transportation economy. For the sake of Nevada’s future, and our children’s future, we are taking action.”

The proposed regulations would adopt two parts of California standards for vehicle emissions; one setting standards on exhaust emissions from new light-and-medium duty motor vehicles starting with model year 2025, as well as a separate standard requiring an increasing percentage of new vehicle sales to be of zero-emission vehicles.

Typically, car manufacturers and dealers are required to follow minimum emission standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but California and other states have adopted policies or passed legislation requiring stricter fuel standards as part of an effort to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond federal standards. 

The regulations adopted by California are a fleet-wide standard, as opposed to requirements on specific cars or passenger vehicles. In Nevada, they would apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty vehicles up to 8,500 lbs. of Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and medium-duty passenger vehicles up to 10,000 lbs. of GVWR.

According to material published by the state, consumers would not be required to purchase electric or other low-emission vehicles, but would likely see more of them available in showrooms and at car dealerships. The proposed regulations are expected to have an effect on businesses, including dealerships, auto repair facilities, suppliers and manufacturers, given new reporting and compliance costs as well as “greater reliability of and lower maintenance costs for electric vehicles.”

Members of the public will also be affected; the state expects the price of zero-emission vehicles to be “initially higher than comparable vehicles,” but over time prices are “expected to achieve parity.” State agencies implementing the regulations — including the Department of Motor Vehicles and Division of Environmental Protection — will also see increased costs and likely need additional staff.

The state is also proposing to create a credit bank for car dealerships to use beginning with sales of model year 2023 vehicles, essentially allowing them to get a head start on credit requirements.

In order to take effect, the proposed regulations would need to be approved by the state Environmental Commission and then the Interim Legislative Commission. The state plans to first hold meetings and gather input from the public, manufacturers and car dealers between August 2020 and March 2021. 

Last November, Sisolak signed an executive order directing his administration to develop a comprehensive, coordinated plan to address climate change. The order largely echoed law changes passed in the 2019 Legislature, including codifying the goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025, and 46 percent those benchmark 2005 emission levels by 2030.

The order also reiterated the state’s promise to follow the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement, which Nevada entered in March after the Trump administration announced intentions to withdraw from the international agreement.

But per the state’s 2019 report on greenhouse gas emissions — also required under a 2019 law change — Nevada is on the trajectory to miss those carbon reduction goals, owing largely to expected unchanging emission levels from the transportation sector.

State leaders have made no secret in the past that they were looking to adopt California's clean car standards; Attorney General Aaron Ford joined the state onto a lawsuit last year challenging the Trump administration’s attempt to revoke California’s ability to set higher emission standards.

The rollout of the higher standards was applauded by a variety of clean energy groups as well as several lawmakers and other organizations, including the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, IBEW Local 396 and others, who said it would help improve air quality in the state’s metropolitan areas.

“Attacks from Washington D.C. can’t hide the fact that Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city in the nation or that transportation is the state’s largest source of carbon pollution,” Natural Resources Defense Council Policy Director Patricia Valderrama said in a statement. “Clean car standards will provide Nevadans with more transportation options and much-needed relief from volatile gas prices and dirty air."