City of Las Vegas poised to hand Badlands case to former Bundy attorney

As the years-long fight over the stalled development of the Badlands golf course drags into the new decade, Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic has sought the help of one-time Ammon Bundy lawyer Dan Hill’s law firm to defend the city in “all of the currently-pending ‘Badlands’ litigations.”

According to an agreement between Hill and the city obtained by The Nevada Independent, Hill’s firm is set to represent the city at a cost of $21,000 per month through the duration of all lawsuits “until all of the litigations are fully resolved, meaning closed by the district court with no further possible appeals.” 

The city has for the last two years defended itself in roughly a dozen lawsuits from Badlands developer Yohan Lowie and his company EHB, who claim that the city has unlawfully restricted the use of private property and delayed the application process. 

In one of those disputes, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled early last month that the city acted properly when it initially approved development plans, overturning a district court ruling that said Lowie had erred in not seeking approval for a “major modification” to the golf course. 

But residents of the wealthy Queensridge neighborhood, where the Badlands course sits, have long sought to stall development, charging that the high-density project will hurt property values.

The fight over the Badlands golf course has in some ways come to define the city’s politics over the past few years, often shining a spotlight on backbiting and personal attacks between politicians, lawyers and Lowie. 

The legal fight has racked up roughly $2 million in legal fees and staffing costs for the city, with the potential to rack up hundreds of thousands more should litigation continue to drag on. 

Hill defended Ammon Bundy during the infamous Bundy Standoff trial following the 2014 armed standoff sparked by years of illegal grazing at the Bundy family’s Bunkerville ranch. That suit famously ended in the dismissal of all charges against the Bundys because of prosecutorial misconduct by federal prosecutors.

City Councilwoman Michele Fiore — at the time a state legislator — was a vocal supporter of the Bundy family and was present during the 2014 Bunkerville standoff. During an interview on MSNBC at the time, Fiore said federal authorities should not have arrived armed and “expect the American people not to fire back.”

Fiore also was involved in the 2016 standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon when she negotiated with federal law enforcement as they closed in on the remaining occupiers.

Requests for comment from Jerbic and Fiore were not immediately returned. 

Badlands representation agr... by Jacob Solis on Scribd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawsuit threatened over bill adding restrictions to golf course redevelopment

A long-running fight between developer Yohan Lowie and the Las Vegas City Council over redevelopment of the shuttered Badlands golf course could soon be making its way to the state Legislature.

A bill introduced Wednesday by Democratic Sens. Joyce Woodhouse and David Parks would set numerous restrictions and requirements for any golf course owner prior to converting the property to another use. Although Badlands isn’t specifically named in the bill, its hyper-specific language hints that the dormant Las Vegas golf course would likely be affected by the bill.

Lowie’s plans to convert the golf course into a high-end residential development angered residents of the wealthy Queensridge neighborhood, leading to extended litigation and fierce fights within the Las Vegas City Council over zoning ordinances and the future of the development.

In a brief interview, Woodhouse denied that the bill was specifically related to the Badlands development and said it was a request from a “golf course homeowner” in her district, which includes the briefly-closed Legacy Golf Club. Parks said the bill would also affect the Black Mountain golf course in Henderson , which declared bankruptcy in 2017, and was an attempt to put a general framework in place for the redevelopment of golf courses.

“With the declining golfing, we’re finding that golf courses are having a much tougher time keeping afloat,” he said. “So we’re hoping that this will set up a framework with which to address the issues that homeowners who have bought on golf courses can be assured that their property rights are guaranteed.”

But Kermitt Waters, a longtime land use and eminent domain attorney representing Lowie, said the measure was a clear shot across the bow aimed at his client and said the proposed legislation presented a clear violation of constitutional provisions prohibiting eminent domain for property transfers between two private parties.

“Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “We have five inverse condemnation cases going on right now, involving this golf course against the city. If they pass this bill, we’re going to immediately make the state of Nevada a defendant.”

The bill, SB251, would require public meetings, an environmental impact study, a minimum amount of open space and requirements that the owner show a governing body that the golf course is no longer “financially viable” before any redevelopment is approved. It also requires any structures built on the converted land to be set back at least 100 feet from any previously existing building.

It also requires a golf course owner to continue maintenance of the property if the course discontinues daily operation, and requires local governments to create maintenance standards that protect the “health, safety, aesthetic, economic and general welfare of properties abutting the residential golf course and the protection of the surrounding neighborhood against nuisances, blight and deterioration.” Lohan’s development company stopped watering the course in 2017.

Frank Schreck, a prominent gaming attorney and name partner with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, lives in the Queensridge neighborhood and has been active in opposing Lowie’s attempts to develop the golf course. Schreck said that he had skimmed the bill and wasn’t sure it would apply to the Badlands golf course, but called the concept “good public policy” and something necessary to protect homeowners from having their property values decimated by the decisions of a golf course owner.

“It’s something that’s really needed to protect people like us,” he said. “We should have never had to go through what we went through. It’s outrageous.”

Schreck said that although the measure would likely be amended, it was necessary to prevent what he described as retaliatory measures from golf course owners such as Lowie, who he blamed for cutting down trees and other open space around the golf course, and placing overly large no trespassing signs that hurt the property values of surrounding homes.

“He is just the most despicable human being I have ever met in my life,” he said.

Waters said he or other representatives of Lowie’s development company would likely be speaking to lawmakers in the near future of the “unintended consequences” of approving the bill.

“I don’t think they really want to do this,” he said. “It sounds like a good idea to some politician to help the rich people that have those nice homes in Queensridge. But this is not a good way to do it.”

The development saga has been a dominant issue in council elections; Steve Seroka unseated former councilman Bob Beers in a 2017 race largely dominated by Seroka’s staunch opposition to the development. Seroka resigned from office this week, amid a recall election and challenge from former Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, who accused Seroka of not doing enough to find a solution to the development problem.

Las Vegas public information officer Jace Radke said in an email the city was still reviewing the bill and didn’t have an official position.