Council chose to explore using the five-acre site despite its location and environmental concerns.
Coucilwoman Jenny Brekhus said she was hesitant about the location because of proximity to Fourth Street and revitalization efforts in the area. She added that the county should take a larger role on the project.
“Frankly, I don’t think we should be the lead agency on constructing (a shelter),” she said.
Councilman Oscar Delgado also said he had some reservations about the location.
“This site in particular brings a lot of issues to me,” said Delgado. “If we go down this route, it is going to cost us quite a bit of funds to get started.”
But Councilwoman Neoma Jardon, who is working on solving Reno’s homeless crisis, urged fast action.
“The situation with our houseless individuals is growing, not shrinking,” she stressed. “We are two years into this discussion and no further along. It’s time to act on this. This site, to me, is ideal.”
Councilman Bobzien agreed.
“We’re going to see more camping this winter again,” he said. “If we don’t start this now, I don’t want to see this go another year without this moving forward.”
Businessman and mayoral candidate Eddie Lorton, speaking during public comment, also said Washoe County needs to step up and pay for the project.
“This is the county’s issue,” he said. “They’re supposed to pay. I don’t want (us) to get out-negotiated again. Why do we keep footing the bill?”
In the end, Council voted unanimously to start exploring the feasibility of the site for a shelter.
J.D. Klippenstein, executive director of Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada (ACTIONN), said he was pleased by the council’s vote.
“I was encouraged that the council wants to move forward,” he said. He expressed concern, however, that, “when (the shelter’s) in place, that could lead to more enforcement of vagrancy ordinances while ignoring the bigger picture of housing in the community.”
Environmental Clean-Up Needed
ThisisReno readers expressed concern about the property, which was given to the city by the Union Pacific railroad as part of the ReTRAC project, after we first reported on the environmental problems noted in a consultant’s report to the city in 2015.
“Why wasn’t this cleaned up years ago?” asked Curtis Womack on Facebook.
Assistant City Attorney Jonathan Shipman said the city did not have money to address the problems at the property.
Those issues include an unused underground storage tank, a standpipe with unidentified sludge, an abandoned nuisance recreational vehicle, drums containing waste oil, and storage tanks with waste oil and propane.
“(It) hasn’t been at the top of anyone’s list because we didn’t have any money,” Shipman said. “There wasn’t a project necessitating it. Money spent there is money taken from police, fire, and other services.”
Shipman said the problems would cost about $50,000 to fix.
City Code Enforcement Manager Alex Woodley said that the city’s public works department has jurisdiction over the property, and environmental problems would have to be addressed before any construction began.
“Whatever the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection requires, we will have to take care of that,” he said. “They would have to make the determination on how it would have to be addressed.”
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Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.