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VIDEO: Sparks political candidates sound off growth, housing

By Bob Conrad

Candidates for the City of Sparks council and mayor on Wednesday discussed why they should be elected. Incumbents sat with their challengers at the Sparks Library on 12th Street for an hour-long forum.

The candidates mostly agreed on big issues but differed on one point – whether the Sparks city government is actually working for the citizens. 

All the incumbents said it is. The challengers said otherwise.

Growth of the region was a hot topic. Most said they are in favor of it but wanted to ensure more affordable housing was added to the mix of what is being built.

The moderators asked about the EDAWN study that supported what is being proposed in the Truckee Meadows Public Lands Management Act, something incumbent Mayor Ed Lawson continues to push.

Christine Garvey, who is challenging Lawson, is a dental hygienist. 

“I grew up here,” she said. “It is where I became a young woman and really had that sense of community.” 

She mentioned the EDAWN study, which she implied was an exercise in confirmation bias. 

“Their study in that kind of served the people that asked for it,” she said. “That lands bill … that’s a way for developers to be able to get a lot of land that is a lot easier to develop and is cheaper for them. Does that equal affordable housing? Not really.”

John Eastwick, a candidate for Ward 2 and owner of a bar in downtown Sparks, disputed that statement. He said the land bill proposes land being auctioned to the highest bidder.

“We see time and time again the city will bend over backwards for the Nugget, bend over backwards for the developers, and that’s not okay.”

Eastwick had a dispute with the city of Sparks in 2019, as reported by the RGJ. He said the Nugget, during special events, essentially forced him to double or triple his prices. He compared the situation to “Nazi Germany.”

 (The far-right, totalitarian German Reich, from 1933 to 1943, is more accurately associated with genocide of Jews, the Roma, homosexuals and those experiencing mental illness, not the price of alcholic beverages.)

Then Assistant Sparks City Manager Doug Thornley, now Reno’s city manager, disputed Eastwick’s claims. 

“If those guys (at Victorian Saloon) want to sell beer for $4, that’s fine, they should do that,” Thornley told the RGJ. “But if they want to participate in the special event, they have to work with the promoter.”

Damon Harrell, who is challenging Ward 4 incumbent Charlene Bybee, said he is pro-growth.

“I’m a little concerned about hyper growth,” he said. “My biggest concern is overgrowing the town just to protect the tax base.”

Dian Vanderwell, the incumbent for Ward 2, said she supported the adaptive reuse of buildings.

“We’ve allowed Wall Street to come in to purchase our properties… but hopefully … we can get some of those properties freed up from being full time rentals for corporations and allow more housing to hit the market so people that want to buy and live here, can,” she said. 

Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson.
Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson.

Lawson said he wants to move industrial development off of the Truckee River and put residential developments there instead. 

Industrial development should occur east of Sparks, he added. He touted the lands bill, and a proposed connector from Sparks to the USA Parkway.

“To me, that’s smart growth,” he said.

Bybee said she supported Lawson’s lands bill effort.

“Infill is one way to expand our housing,” she said. “The farther out, the more expensive it is. The other option, besides infill, is the mayor’s … lands bill.”

The challengers to the incumbents said they felt like the city government tosses aside their concerns in favor of developers and larger businesses.

“As a small business owner, sometimes I don’t feel represented,” Eastwick said. “We see time and time again the city will bend over backwards for the Nugget, bend over backwards for the developers, and that’s not okay.”

A question from the audience was how the city of Reno and Washoe County could make Sparks better.

“The thing that would make it easier for us is if Reno and Washoe County worked together better,” Lawson said.

“Actually I think we are the greatest of the three [jurisdictions],” Bybee said. “People are Sparks proud.”

The event was moderated by Lucia Starbuck with KUNR and Carly Sauvageau with the Nevada Independent.

Watch the forum below

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