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Council approves controversial river cleanup contract


Garbage from a homeless camp along the Truckee River. Photo: Trevor Bexon

The Reno City Council on Wednesday approved a controversial program to clean up and restore the area around the Truckee River, hiring an outside contractor to do the job. The decision was in response to recent citations from the Washoe County Health District for health code violations.

Council unanimously approved the $250,000 six-month contract with Coit Services. Coit’s staff will merge with current city resources and personnel to form a “Clean and Safe Team.” According to the staff report, the team will “remove 60-80 cubic yards of waste, including lumber, discarded appliances, mattresses, thousands of used needles, and piles of human waste.” 

The program, and homeless camp cleanups, drew criticism from homeless activists and concerns from the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union. Advocates were concerned about the risk of violating individuals’ Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights, which prohibit the unlawful search and seizure of possessions and removal of people from a public space if there is no shelter space available.

City officials said belongings would not be thrown away and the Reno Police Department confirmed that at least 24 hours’ notice would be given before any cleanups–a policy the City says they have been following for some time.

A tent, bicycle, and other belongings at a homeless camp along the Truckee River.
Photo: Trevor Bexon

Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas emphasized Coit Service’s qualifications for the job.

“One of the reasons that we picked Coit is that they’re already trained, and they have the supplies, and they already know how to clean up these physical situations as opposed to hiring people who’ve never done this,” he said.

We have got to get people off this river for their own safety.”

Discussion echoes earlier meeting

Much of the Council discussion and public comments mirrored discussions at Monday’s Community Homelessness Advisory Board (CHAB) meeting, where Councilmember Neoma Jardon and Councilmember Oscar Delgado are also members.

Jardon discussed the danger present to people living by the river as well as the need to take action.

Coucil member Neoma Jardon.

“The horrific impacts of a flood in that area with those encampments would be catastrophic. So I feel like we’re in a position, not only because of the biohazard and the water issues, we have got to get people off this river for their own safety,” she said.

Delgado added, “We as a city have to be compliant…this is a cleaning issue that we’ve been patchworking over the last several years and trying to find some more efficiencies in how we can make those broader impacts.”

In the discussion on the proposal, Councilmember Naomi Duerr brought up concerns over the City not keeping track of people’s belongings. Other councilmembers emphasized the need for more data, solutions such as trash cans, and a campground for Reno’s homeless population.

The CHAB is currently evaluating other jurisdictions’ safe campground practices and finding ways people can keep their pets with them in a shelter.

Jardon said finding a location for a safe campground is a challenge and, “for those who want to step up and help us, we could really [use] help in that regard.”

Councilmember Devon Reese doesn’t see working with the homeless community and cleaning up the area as separate issues.

“We can clean up the river because we have to…and we can support unsheltered folks. I don’t believe they’re mutually exclusive,” Reese said.

The City also has around 450 beds coming online, including beds in an Our Place Facility sometime in the spring, additional emergency overflow, a shelter village in the summer, and other shelters in the future.

Other Business

The Council also approved agenda items for a zoning ordinance amendment and the purchase of a license plate reader for the RPD.

A zoning amendment was approved for the Bella Vista Ranch to convert 11 acres of commercial land to residential, allowing for 612 dwelling units and alleviating traffic. The amendment also includes provisions for feral horses and an affordable housing donation.

The Council also discussed the purchase of two mobile and six fixed License Plate Reader (LPR) cameras for the RPD with grant funding. Councilmembers voiced concern about the use and sharing of information from the readers to ICE and other organizations. RPD said it plans to use the cameras to reduce violent crimes and will not use them for immigration, and the Council approved the grant.

Council also upheld a two-year time extension for the Meridian 120 North project’s tentative map, approved amendments to align the use of bikes, scooters, and other mobility-sharing devices with city law, and appointed various positions listed below.

  • Tenant Issues and Concerns Citizen Advisory Board: Trevor Bexon, Grant Denton, Jessica Ebbe, Farrah Eells, Daniel Lorenz, and T Tran
  • Ward 3 Neighborhood Advisory Board: Alexsis Adams and Christopher Newman
  • Human Rights Commission: Alexsis Adams
  • Artown: Vice Mayor Reese
  • Community Development Block Grant Subcommittee: Councilmember Duerr
  • Reno Arts and Culture Commission: Councilmember Duerr
  • RTC: Councilmember Jardon and alternate Councilmember Weber
  • Building Enterprise Fund Advisory Committee: Councilmember Duerr
  • Human Rights Commission: Vice Mayor Reese
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist based out of Reno, Nevada. She is fascinated by storytelling, place, and the intersection of narrative and data analysis and holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography and English and American Literatures from Middlebury College. When she is not tracking down a story or listening to podcasts, you can find her hiking Nevada’s gorgeous terrain, perusing local bookstores, playing Quidditch, and discovering Reno’s hidden stories.