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The Truckee Meadows sprawl bill (opinion)


Submitted by Bob Fulkerson

Bob Fulkerson

The slogan of the first activist organization I worked for 35 years ago was “Citizen Participation in Democratic Decisions that Affect Our Lives.” Robust public engagement increases confidence that whatever outcome is achieved is for the public good, when all parties work in good faith. It’s how democracy works. We should apply it here.

Unfortunately, the public participation process surrounding the latest iteration of the Washoe County lands bill appears to have been designed to keep the public in the dark: the press release sent on a Friday night at 5:30; the website and information from the county containing erroneous information about public hearings; a public information session on Tuesday night that was one of the most awkward, least informative public meetings ever in my 35 years; and only three hours of public testimony on one night—the sole opportunity for a public hearing.

It’s no wonder they want a closed and rushed process. If people knew about it, they’d rise up and kill it like they did each and every time this outrage has been proposed: In 2005 when Ensign tried it, 2012 when Reid tried it, and in 2018, when developers tried to revive it again.

We in northern Nevada will always fight like hell against those who would convert us to Las Vegas or Los Angeles with these outdated massive land giveaway bills. Cherishing our wild and open spaces isn’t some vapid idea—it is why we live here.

Sprawl from here to Pyramid Lake will be surrounded by a big pile of sand.”

The bottom line is that the public does not trust local governments to manage the feeding frenzy of developers at the public lands trough that will result from this bill.

We do not trust that the double-digit billions of dollars of water, sewer, highways, roads, and other infrastructure costs resulting from this bill will not be foist on working class and low-income communities that can barely afford to live here anymore.

We do not trust that once this bill goes through and 90,000 acres of our wild and open lands from south Reno to Pyramid Lake are sold to developers and paved over that somehow the cost of housing will come down and Reno/Sparks will once again be affordable because developers have decided to build affordable housing.

We most certainly do not trust the Pollyanna prognostications of the water profiteers about groundwater availability. Sprawl from here to Pyramid Lake will be surrounded by a big pile of sand. The groundwater-dependent communities of desert plants and animals will be gone forever.

The Washoe County lands bill was brought back for discussion in January 2020. Not everybody was happy. Image: Bob Conrad.

Every surface water right has been allocated. The Truckee River is over allocated. Groundwater is over-pumped and exceeding recharge now. In 2000, Pyramid Lake was ten feet higher than it is today.

This proposal shows we are either in denial about climate change or only talk a good game about it. If we were actually serious about addressing climate change, this sprawl bill would be off the table.

I appreciate that local governments are strapped for funding and are eager to see an influx of “free money” from selling off our public lands. When I was a City of Reno lifeguard in the late ’70s, there was more public swim time available then than now. Tax giveaways to billionaire corporations like Apple, Switch, Tesla and Google ensure none of them pay a dime for basic services their workers need. Where do we get the money?

Those that brought us the current mess we’re in have hatched this sprawl bill to sell off our crown jewels to subsidize growth they know never pays for itself.

Elected officials, from the Congressional delegation to city council representatives, need to hear from us now. Our votes—from all political stripes—far outnumber those behind this insulting and outrageous affront to our beloved and besieged home we call northern Nevada.

Bob Fulkerson is a fifth-generation Nevadan and Development Director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

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