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Barber Brief: Positive Steps for Public Process (commentary)

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A Reset on the Record Street CAC Properties

There was more news regarding the unsolicited offer for the Community Assistance Center (CAC) properties on Record Street that I wrote about on April 7

If you weren’t following the news last week, I won’t hold you in suspense: after a prolonged discussion, City Council voted to have the Record Street properties assessed and to prepare to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for them rather than enter into exclusive negotiations with Bash Capital, LLC.

That decision is a welcome one, as it will allow anyone (including Bash Capital, LLC) to formally submit proposals that could potentially include ideas for repurposing the existing structures or removing them to develop something else on the site.

I’ll have more thoughts on what I’d like to see in that RFP in just a bit. But first, I want to explain what inspired even more concern the day before the meeting. And I’m writing about this not to add fuel to what was already a fiery meeting, but to place the developments of last week in context with my oft-stated concerns about public process, particularly with respect to decisions about City-owned properties like the CAC, National Bowling Stadium, Lear Theater, and Southern Pacific Railroad Depot.

Sometime on Tuesday, April 9, two new documents popped up on the City’s website: 

  1. A presentation from Bash Capital, LLC titled “Attainable Workforce Housing on 4th Street Corridor”
  2. Staff presentation on Letter of Interest to Purchase 315 and 355 Record Street

Now, supplementary materials do sometimes appear online a day or two before a Council meeting. But these particular documents contained content that was critical not only to inform the public about what was to be discussed on Wednesday, but to inform City Council what they would even be evaluating. 

And there was something else that is definitely not normal. The staff recommendation in the Staff Report posted with the agenda the week priorwas for City Council to choose from a number of options that could include securing an appraisal of the properties; entering into exclusive negotiations with Bash Capital, LLC; issuing an RFP for the CAC properties; or putting them up for public auction.

In contrast, the new staff presentation posted the day before the meeting recommended only that Council vote to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Bash Capital, Inc. That’s it.

I would certainly have written a different preview of the item had I known staff was recommending that sole option over issuing an RFP or holding a public auction.

The Bash Capital, LLC presentation that was posted on Tuesday raised some serious questions for me, but since Council did not decide to enter into negotiations with them, I don’t think they bear additional discussion at this time. I’d still encourage you to check it out, though, as the idea may return as a formal response to an RFP.

What does warrant mention here is the revelation contained in an April 9 This is Reno article (“Sale of Community Assistance Center in discussion for months despite no council decision on its future” ) that Bash Capital, LLC had first approached the City about the properties as far back as last summer. As reporter Kristen Hackbarth revealed, Revitalization Manager Bryan McArdle was getting “updates” in July of 2023 on Bash Capital’s plans for the site, which he was asked to “please keep to yourself….”

I hope you will read the entire article (and subscribe to This is Reno if you haven’t already) as it provides important context for the occasionally volatile April 10 meeting. Several news outlets issued reports the following day, including Kelsey Penrose of This is Reno (“Accusations of ‘back door deals’ levied in proposed Community Assistance Center purchase”) and Ben Margiott of News4Reno (“After ‘problematic’ process and developer bid, Reno to take offers on old homeless shelter”).

You can watch the proceedings yourself via the YouTube recording, where discussion of Item D.5 starts here, but there were relevant comments during the initial public comment period and the approval of the agenda. (I’m not going to say much about the current City Council races (at least not until after the primaries), but if you live in one of the wards where a seated Councilmember is up for election, I highly recommend watching as many meetings as you can to see how they choose to represent you.)

I don’t believe, as some stated, that what we’re dealing with here are “back door deals” or “secret negotiations,” but lapses in process don’t have to be that dramatic to be problematic, which I think the eventual Council vote to issue an RFP recognized.

As I wrote last October, the public has reason to be concerned about the reliability and transparency of public process when key information seems to be withheld from public view for an extended period of time. I’ll repeat some of what I wrote back then:

“When the link between City actions and prior public discussion isn’t clear, residents can find themselves frustrated. The more substantive and consequential the issue—and the more people who care about it—the larger the potential degree and scope of frustration, if it seems that City staff, at the direction of the City Manager, may have exercised a bit too much latitude, if they don’t seem to have all the facts or knowledge of best practices at hand, or if they aren’t keeping Council—and by extension, the public—updated on certain items of clear public interest. And sometimes by the time an item arrives on a Council agenda, City staff has already proceeded so far in one direction that Council is left with very little time or substance to deliberate and residents feel powerless to change the course of events.”

Public commenters at the September 27, 2023 Council meeting as well as Councilmember Brekhus asked the City to put the disposition of the CAC on a Council agenda, as did I, so “residents and Councilmembers can pose a whole series of questions to City staff, and ensure that all options for the property are considered.”

That didn’t happen, however, and the CAC didn’t appear again on the agenda until the April 10 meeting, when City staff recommended that the City enter into an exclusive agreement with a company most of us had never heard of until the week prior. And it’s equally alarming if City Councilmembers hadn’t seen the proposal until the day before the meeting, either, since that would have given them no time to even evaluate the company, much less their proposal for an extremely complicated site.

Read more at The Barber Brief.

The Barber Brief is an independent e-newsletter and blog written by Dr. Alicia Barber on the Substack platform. It is reposted by This Is Reno with her permission.

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