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Council hears updates on UNR, code enforcement and business licenses


Reno City Council members on Wednesday directed city staff to update portions of city code to streamline and clean up portions dealing with code enforcement and privileged business licenses. 

According to Chief Innovation and Experience Officer Ashley Turney, the city’s code enforcement team last year responded to more than 3,300 cases, with most cases coming from wards 3 and 5, specifically within the downtown areas. 

Code enforcement officers also proactively opened 108 cases to tackle chronic nuisances. 

“Code enforcement and business licensing is crucial to the quality of life in the biggest little city,” Turney said. 

With a streamlined code enforcement service, Turney said, the department can take on code enforcement issues before they become nuisances to the public. 

Parking enforcement handled over 10,000 calls for service in 2022 alone, and the top three calls for service were related to abandoned vehicles, illegal vehicles and occupied vehicles. 

In 2022, more than 22,600 business licenses were issued within Reno, 6,000 of which are privileged, meaning the businesses have alcohol, gaming or both. 

Privileged licenses are given a flat-rate renewal fee option each year and take significantly more staff time to evaluate and approve, according to Turney. 

“Council has indicated that some of these licenses need further review,” Turney said. “What we’ve identified is that some of these require more time, and specifically we’ve identified the privileged licenses.”

The new procedure would require a code enforcement inspection to occur with all privileged business license applications if a special use permit is required, before council members are presented with the application for approval.  

“While our team is committed to customer service and efficiency…our code is antiquated,” Turney said. 

“Most of our laws have not been updated since the ‘90s and while many of us feel like the ‘90s was just yesterday, let me put it to you this way: most of our codes are so old that they can legally rent a car without a surcharge. There are some updates that are necessary.”

Turney said that existing code is causing inefficiencies and challenges both to staff and the public, especially when it comes to privileged business licenses. 

With 50 different privileged licenses, applicants are often confused by the choices — such as between a caterer with alcohol or an alcohol caterer. 

“These are things that have been updated throughout our code without a holistic view,” Turney said. “That’s not the best way to be pro-business.” 

This summer the department will evaluate current code and provide updates to the council. Following those meetings, the department will host stakeholder meetings and conduct outreach throughout the winter, then provide a final recommendation in spring 2024. 

Duerr said she was excited about the code changes. 

“You are committed to fairness and equity,” Duerr said. “Some things that have come to my attention over the years … is that code enforcement is complaint driven. What that results in is potentially onerous enforcement action on one person when someone right next door can be doing the same thing but they didn’t receive that complaint, and it’s almost like the eyes don’t go further than what’s in front of them.” 

Duerr also said she would like to see differences between business out of a home versus out of a separate location. 

Reno City Council member Naomi Duerr. Image: City of Reno.
Reno City Council member Naomi Duerr. Image: City of Reno.

“A lot of the times people running business out of their homes don’t have the wherewithal or even the size of business to justify renting a secondary space. I really think we should take a look at that and see if there should be a differential in terms of rates or requirements.” 

Taylor said that she was “behind code enforcement 100%” in whatever they needed to do to create a safe and clean downtown. 

Council member Jenny Brekhus said the presentation was “all over the place.” 

“I don’t know if we’re talking about a strategy for downtown or if we’re talking about the Realtors’ ongoing issue that each Realtor needs to get their own license or under their own brokerage,” Brekhus said. “I also heard parking, which is a pet topic of mine…I don’t see you’ve presented enough to understand where you think you want to go.” 

“We’re looking to modernize our code and getting [rid of] things that are antiquated,” Turney said. “For example ‘coin operated amusement rides’ are still listed as a specific license you have to obtain. We’re looking for a streamlined process for applications, we’re looking for change in timelines of renewals — one thing we often hear from the public is ‘When is my license actually due?’ … We’re looking for better tools for code enforcement. 

“And the last thing I would note is that this council has identified a strategic priority as efficient service delivery,” Turney added. “Currently I would say our staff is doing the best they can with what they have. We are not as effective as we can because of these older systems that are in place.” 

Council member Devon Reese said that Reno is in the midst of a “Renaissance period” following COVID. 

“We are poised and ready to go and have a great future,” Reese said. 

UNR gives update 

University of Nevada, Reno President and former Governor Brian Sandoval attended Wednesday’s Reno City Council meeting to provide a presentation on university updates with a focus on city-university collaborative efforts. 

Sandoval highlighted several positive changes to the university, which will be celebrating its 150th year of serving students in northern Nevada this year. 

The university will soon achieve its status as an emerging Hispanic-serving university which means they will soon have a campus population of 25% Latine students. 

According to Sandoval the university recently received a 12% cut in its budget which led to an estimated 200-250 campus jobs unfilled. But the governor’s proposed budget, released earlier this year, restores that budget and goes even further.

A new life sciences building is also being sought to replace the 1950s-era Fleischmann Agriculture building. 

Graduate students could soon see an updated stipend allotment under the governor’s recommended budget, which Sandoval believes will bring new graduate students onto campus and elevate the research being done. 

University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval. Image: UNR
University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval. Image: UNR

“The stipends have not grown concurrently with [the cost of living],” Sandoval said. “The stipend will allow us to recruit more graduate students which increases our research portfolio and increases graduate students on our campus.”   

The university has also created the Collegiate Academy program which allows high school students to earn dual enrollment credit through the university system. Two schools, neither in northern Nevada, have adopted the program: Centennial and Cheyenne high schools in Las Vegas. 

“This is really such a great opportunity to increase access to higher education and expose students to higher education who may not have considered it a possibility,” Council member Miguel Martinez said.  

Within city collaboration efforts, Sandoval noted the creation of the Gateway District project. 

“This really is the first concrete example of the partnership of this project,” Sandoval said. “We’re very excited about expanding with the City of Reno.” 

Gateway District project infrastructure has completed its first building with a new parking garage. A new business studies building and hotel-conference center complex are to follow. 

A plaza would be constructed between the two buildings and the business building would act as the new “front door” of the university, Sandoval said. 

The groundbreaking for the new building is Oct. 12 should the Board of Regents approve the proposal. 

In addition, Sandoval said the university is subletting close to 80 studio apartments in the downtown Reno area for its graduate students.

“I think you’re going to start seeing these collaborations and we are exploring these opportunities south of the freeway,” he said. 

Council member Naomi Duerr suggested the university have a partnership or even a buyout with the Walgreens located between the downtown area and the university, which she said is in need of rehabilitation. 

“We would love that, too,” Sandoval said. 

Council member Kathleen Taylor said she was looking forward to the collaboration between the university and the companies that inhabit the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center including Tesla and Redwood Materials as it focuses research on the “lithium loop.” Collaboration will allow for a closed system of lithium within the state of Nevada from mining to battery creation and electric vehicle installation, all the way to recycling and beginning the process again. 

“I’m very excited about the super center, thank you for taking the lead on that,” Taylor said. “It’s going to need a leader, and we see that with you.” 

Redevelopment agency overview  

Council, meeting as the Redevelopment Agency Board, heard a presentation on the state of the Redevelopment Agency including tax revenue, cash flow and debt obligations. 

In the last few years, redevelopment funds have increased significantly. In the 2020-21 fiscal year one RDA fund was just over $435,000. The beginning fund balance for the 2023-24 fiscal year is projected at $7.86 million. 

RDA projects include the Virginia Street Placemaking project, which was recently allotted $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, and the Facade Improvement Program, which has $500,000 in dedicated ARPA funding as well.  

The “micromobility” pilot program was also highlighted, which sought to increase street usage and safety through an increase of bike lanes and traffic slowing. 

An Activation Coordinator position was recently approved by council which will focus on creating and/or coordinating special events throughout the city – including the 125 currently permitted special events that occur annually within the city. 

Since the Redevelopment Agency was created in 1983, there have been a number of plans proposed, from the river corridor to entertainment revitalization, bike and pedestrian plans to IBM Smarter Cities and more. 

However, following the presentation city staff asked for “not another plan, but an implementation strategy.” 

Specifically, staff asked council for a five-year implementation plan including funding structures, hiring a prioritization consultant and management analyst, and more. 

Reese said this was a good time to seek new opportunities in redevelopment. 

“In the last 10 years we’ve been really focused on paying down debt and the micro-issues with city government,” Reese said. “We survived a pandemic; all those things are important and had their moment. This is the moment now for us to go out and explore these new opportunities.” 

Taylor said that since the Reno Downtown Partnership was also discussing a facade improvement project, the city should work together to combine resources. 

“Whatever you decide to do moving forward I would encourage you to work together so we are maximizing our resources,” Taylor said. “They may have already got some of the leg work done which would be fantastic.” 

In discussions on potentially creating a Redevelopment Program Management position, Brekhus said that she did not know what the current Revitalization Manager “even does.”

“I don’t understand why he’s the ‘manager’ as that implies some subject material expertise; his position isn’t TIF [Tax Increment Financing] funded, and then you have more of a programmatic nature for what he is doing at that higher level…I don’t really know what he is doing.” 

Following the presentation regarding the program and its implementation led by Assistant City Manager Eric Edelstein, Brekhus asked what the program was for. 

Reno City Council member Kathleen Taylor.
Reno City Council member Kathleen Taylor.

“As Mr. Edelstein just said, it’s a work program implementation of 40 years’ work of plans,” City Manager Doug Thornley said. “We’re trying to create a bandwidth to implement the tool for the RDA. [The RDA] is a powerful tool but it needs people to focus on it.”

“But a program management assistant, what expertise do they have to work on this really sophisticated level of statutory requirement and the plan? I mean that’s like 3-4 years of professional work experience.” 

Thornley said the position would be time consuming, but not necessarily technical, describing a boots-on-the-ground position collecting data from the program area. 

“I don’t know, I’m kind of lost on a lot of the positions that have come in and what they’re doing,” Brekhus said. “I’m not really getting it.” 

The full Redevelopment Agency report can be viewed here beginning at page 74. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.