We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this.
— The politician’s syllogism
Last week, I mentioned that Reno was getting ready to announce big changes in Reno’s planning and permit review process. Earlier this week, we found out what they would be. To get a thousand new homes started in 120 days, Mayor Hillary Schieve announced a pilot project to defer all fees until the end of the project for any project constructing more than 30 units in select census tracts designed as opportunity zones by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This means that in addition to receiving preferential federal tax treatment, developers will receive preferential local fee treatment as well.
As far as policy goes, it is, technically, doing something. On the bright side, encouraging in-fill within the McCarran loop (McCarran Boulevard circles the older portions of Reno and Sparks in a rounded rectangle that is roughly two to five miles from Reno City Hall) would go a long way toward encouraging population growth where highway and water infrastructure already exist. Additionally, federal opportunity zone tax credits expire at the end of 2026. This might sound like a long time from now, but bear in mind that it took more than a decade for the land under Park Lane Mall to see the beginnings of redevelopment after the mall’s demolition in 2008, and construction is still ongoing. Granted, some of that was bureaucratic foot dragging, but even Sparks’ considerably more bureaucratically efficient infill developments have taken a couple of years to complete.
On the other hand, Reno’s development fees aren’t going away, and there was no word about speeding up the planning process so projects can get off the ground in a timely fashion. Developers won’t have to pay thousands of dollars before they find out if they’re even permitted to put a shovel in the ground — but the waiting, the arguing over minimum parking requirements, setback requirements, and all the other arcane nonsense in Reno’s 1,222 page Annexation and Land Development Code will apparently continue.
Continuing in the spirit of the aforementioned politician’s syllogism, City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus has proposed creating a Tenants Issues and Concerns Board. This would become Reno’s 24th board and would focus on finding policies and regulations that would deter rent-gouging. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the most effective policy and regulation that would deter rent-gouging would be increasing the supply of housing so landlords would have to compete for renters instead of the other way around. This has worked in Australia, it has worked in Japan, and it works everywhere else it’s tried. Rent control — the politician’s syllogism’s favorite housing policy product — just encourages apartment owners to convert their complexes to condos and decreases the construction of new, rentable properties. It certainly hasn’t helped reduce rents in San Francisco, Santa Monica, or anywhere else it’s been tried.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a renter. I get it. People need help now, not in a decade when the supply of housing finally meets demand (if it ever does). Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus and those who agree with her are responding to the needs of their constituents. I respect that. However, we are going to need help in the future, too. I hope, admittedly against all reason, that the proposed Tenants Issues and Concerns Board doesn’t focus only on the immediate needs of Reno’s renters but also keeps an eye out toward their future needs as well.
Speaking of the needs of the people, Sparks did an interesting job highlighting its “successful partnership with Marnell Gaming” (the owner of the Sparks Nugget, the largest casino resort in town) in its latest State of the City video. The City of Sparks didn’t only offer up to $1.2 million to help finance the Nugget Event Center, though it was a nice reminder that politicians in Nevada and casinos both see room and event taxes as savings accounts that casinos can draw from upon demand, not as revenue sources for public services. The city also serves as the Nugget’s pricing enforcement division whenever the Nugget decides to host a special event on city property, as the Victorian Saloon learned the hard way a little more than a month ago.
It doesn’t sound like Sparks has a successful partnership with the Victorian Saloon. The Victorian Saloon still doesn’t have its patio furniture back, which the city repossessed after bar owner Johnny Eastwick told both the city and the Nugget to do something anatomically improbable with the Nugget’s alcohol price list. That’s a shame since Johnny’s been a Sparks constituent for far longer than Marnell Gaming, which didn’t come to town until after it purchased the Nugget in 2016.
Whether governments should have “successful partnerships” with businesses at all is a different story. There’s a big difference between being pro-business and being pro-market. Markets have both buyers and sellers, so a government that is pro-market should respect and protect both sides of each transaction. Governments that are pro-business, on the other hand, protect only the sellers, not the buyers. Governments that are pro-business, for example, will happily enforce price protections for sellers of alcohol, housing, or anything else that you can think of — at the cost of us, the buyers.
In other words, find a government that looks at you the way the Sparks City Council looks at Marnell Gaming — if you can.
David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected]