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OPINION: Citizens lose when City of Reno departments are not held accountable


Submitted by Stephen Van Zee

City government is primarily responsible for serving the needs of its citizens. When city management (i.e., the City Council and City Manager) does not hold city departments accountable for their actions, the city risks failing its primary responsibility. Such is the case with the City of Reno, Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR).

DPR is responsible for landscape maintenance within nine Landscape Maintenance Districts (LMDs) located in Northwest Reno and Stead (Per Reno Municipal Code Chapter 12.28, Article IX). These LMDs were formed as an alternative to Homeowners Associations, for the purpose of maintaining common-area landscaping in certain city subdivisions. DPR provides administrative oversight while contracting out the actual landscape maintenance work to a private company. The contract between the city and the landscape contractor identifies specific landscape maintenance standards, developed by DPR, to which the contractor must adhere. 

The landscape maintenance cost is borne in full by residential property owners. In effect, DPR acts as a property manager, contracting for landscape maintenance services on behalf of property owners. As such, property owners have a legitimate expectation that DPR will enforce all terms of the contract between the city and the landscape contractor. Yet property owners have little recourse when city management essentially turns a blind eye, relying solely on DPR’s verbal assurances, while DPR mismanages its LMD responsibilities and fails to enforce contract terms. DPR’s mismanagement results in more than just substandard maintenance of existing landscape. In one LMD alone, approximately a third of the trees and half of the shrubs originally planted were lost under DPR’s watch.

In May 2019, I first alerted city management to DPR’s failure to enforce its own landscape maintenance standards in the LMDs. DPR’s mismanagement escalated during calendar year 2022. Per Reno Municipal Code, DPR is required to perform, or cause to be undertaken, landscape maintenance for the LMDs. However, when the prior contract between the city and its contracted landscape company expired January 1, 2022, the city failed to execute a new contract until September 30, 2022. DPR did not step in to provide landscape maintenance services in the interim; thus no landscape maintenance was performed during January through September 2022 – even as the city continued to assess landscape maintenance fees to property owners! 

Regrettably, DPR continues to disregard various requirements of the new landscape maintenance contract. Specific issues have been shared with city councilmembers. However, the City Council has thus far declined to respond, thus rendering implicit approval of DPR’s actions. Instead, the city has acknowledged its disdain of LMDs in general. During the September 14, 2022, City Council meeting, Councilmember Brekhus stated that city staff were “very opposed” to LMDs when they were formed, and staff subsequently referred to LMDs as “a big headache.” During the October 18, 2022, Recreation and Parks Commission meeting, a Commission member dismissed LMDs as “archaic.”

Regardless of the city’s disdain for LMDs, the city has a responsibility to properly execute LMD landscape maintenance services as required by the Reno Municipal Code. City management is failing its responsibility to serve its citizens, by not holding DPR accountable for its mismanagement. 

The end result is that Reno citizens/property owners are forced to pay for landscape services that are not received or properly completed because of DPR’s failure to enforce its own landscape maintenance standards. This in turn results in increased fire risk, decreased property values, and poor subdivision aesthetics. Further, we are left to ponder whether mismanagement of LMDs is symptomatic of a systemic failure within DPR and the city as a whole.

Stephen Van Zee
Stephen Van Zee

Stephen Van Zee is a resident/property owner in Northwest Reno, within the boundaries of Ward 5 and the Northgate 19/La Salle Heights Landscape Maintenance District. He is retired from a career as a Senior Management Auditor with the California State Controller’s Office.

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