Things could always be worse.
I know it’s hard to believe, at least where local government in this state is concerned. The Las Vegas City Council, rarely a paragon of good government on the best of days, narrowly avoided the humiliation of electing known sexual harasser Ruben Kihuen to its hallowed halls a few months back. Instead, it will carry forward with hope in its collective heart, a convicted former city councilman wandering the halls as a lobbyist, a city manager who is about done with one councilwoman in particular — one who now has an old friend to sit next to — and another disgraced city councilman to clean up after.
Meanwhile, it’s been a little more than a year since North Las Vegas fired its city manager and replaced her with the man she fired — one who just happened to be a close friend of the mayor. Replacing an accomplished city manager with a campaign consultant was, unsurprisingly, viewed as a bad idea at the time. How has it aged? Well, he got himself a raise and now makes more than the city managers for Las Vegas and Henderson. Given how prosperous North Las Vegas is compared to those two cities, I’m sure his higher salary is totally justified and not an unfortunate byproduct of political incestuousness.
Then there’s the Clark County School District, which tried to play chicken with Carson City and was PITed by a clearly peeved governor. Thing is, when you don’t lose a game of chicken by crashing head-on, you get it in your head that you can drive away and try again. So, in order to coerce a clearly reluctant county commission to bite the bullet, Superintendent Jara started a new game of chicken by laying off every dean via video message. Trouble is, losing a game of chicken hurts, and this time, the school district gets to do it while fighting through a new leadership team and a clearly peeved administrators’ union.
Then there’s the Washoe County School District, which shut its offices down because its superintendent decided to come back to work, then fired her. I’d say more about that, but Orrin Johnson is already on it. Meanwhile, Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung did her best once more to demonstrate what Michelle Fiore’s loud, boorish schtick would look like if it came from a Democrat. Oh, and there was that fight among a pair of Douglas County commissioners a little over a month ago.
Yes, amateurish posturing, clumsy corruption, and just general rank incompetence remains the order of the day among Nevada’s local governments. The responsible thing to do, I suppose, would be to call out the systemic failures of our local governments and how they’re frequently a product of the incentives we’ve created for them. (At least we finally — finally! — no longer have to worry about off-year municipal elections thanks to a rare bit of positive bipartisanship and leadership.)
All that calling out, however, sounds like work, and besides, the Legislature won’t be back in session until I’m north of 40 and President Trump has been reelected to his third term (here’s hoping Marianne Williamson defeats him on the battlefield of love before that happens). Instead, let us soothe our pain via one of Nevada’s favorite traditions: entertaining ourselves with the schadenfreude of how much worse things are in California.
You would think that the home of California’s most successful fruit company would be run by the smartest of the smart, the best of the best. You would think that if any city in the world would be run by philosopher-kings with Ph.Ds well-acquainted with matters mathematical, vegetable, animal and mineral, it would be this city. You would expect this city to be run by the very model of a modern major city council.
You would be wrong.
Every smart person in Cupertino has a job doing no evil and “thinking different.” That, unfortunately, means that the only people left to run the city government are the ones too dumb and lazy to even get a job sanitizing telephones. Consequently, like many Bay Area cities, it has a problem. Namely, that there are far more jobs within Cupertino than there are workers. Like many cities in California, however, Cupertino actually prefers things that way. After all, residents require expensive services — schools, for example — that businesses don’t. Also, commercial properties tend to change hands more readily than residential properties; thanks to Prop 13, taxable property values only increase to market value when they’re sold, so commercial properties routinely provide greater revenue for cities than residential properties. Consequently, it’s better for Cupertino’s bottom line if all the people live somewhere else and commute into Cupertino, especially if Cupertino can get the state and federal governments to pay for most of the freeways and mass transit required to make that possible.
Incidentally, if you want to know why SJR 14’s depreciation schedule reset was a bad idea that needed to die quietly, that linked piece is why.
Now, in a free market without onerous zoning controls, one would expect housing construction to more or less line up with population and job growth. Sure, some people would still commute, but people move around more than you might think, especially if they get cheaper housing or a shorter commute out of it. This is more or less how things work in Tokyo, which, with more than 140,000 housing starts, built twice as many homes as the entire state of California in 2014, and had nearly thirty times as many housing starts as the entire Bay Area (only 5,000) that year.
The Bay Area has since doubled its housing construction, but, to put the Bay Area’s number into perspective, Reno-Sparks built more than 2,500 units in 2018, despite having less than a tenth of the Bay Area’s population, and Las Vegas built nearly 9,000 units despite having less than half. Put the two together and Nevada is building more housing than the entire Bay Area, despite the Bay Area having more than twice as many people and despite Bay Area household incomes being much higher than ours.
Cupertino, however, is not a free market, which explains why Cupertino’s median home selling price is more than ten times the city’s $173,820 median household income. Given how many households in Cupertino earn six figures, it should be trivially easy to build housing that Cupertino residents could afford. That it isn’t so is entirely because of local government interference.
What kind of interference, you ask?
A few years back, the State of California demanded that Cupertino relax its single family zoning restrictions — a legitimate demand as it’s the State of California that is subsidizing highway and train construction for commuters who work in Cupertino but live outside of it because of the afore-mentioned intransigence of its city council. The council’s response was to openly joke about upzoning properties they knew no developer would want to build on. More recently, the mayor of Cupertino jokingly suggested building a wall around the city and making San Jose pay for it.
Less jokingly, there’s a now-empty mall directly across the freeway from the headquarters of Apple Computers, which would ordinarily seem to be a perfectly logical place to build some housing. There’s already freeway access, and it’s within easy walking distance of one of Cupertino’s largest employers so what’s not to like? Plenty, it turns out, at least if you’re a neighbor that would rather live next to a dead, quiet mall instead of an active construction site. The city council responded by quietly rescinding its code of ethics so that its members would not have to recuse themselves while opposing the development.
With that tone set, is it really any surprise that Cupertino’s Planning Commission Chair has called pro-housing activists “neoliberal fascists” and attempted to get an activist fired by publicly identifying their employer? Is it any wonder that this same Planning Commission Chair would rather invite tens of millions of dollars in fines, payable by Cupertino’s taxpayers, than allow anyone to build over a dead mall? Is it any surprise that, despite openly insulting and doxxing members of the public, the Cupertino City Council has never bothered to consider replacing the Planning Commission Chair?
Why would they? The Planning Commission Chair is on their side.
Nevada’s local governments certainly have their problems, but the idea that any of them would become vaguely nostalgic over a dead mall site and block redevelopment efforts for years because of a bit of construction dust is comical. Letting a convicted former city councilman lobby the very institution he disgraced won’t empower appointed bureaucrats to try to get their constituents fired for disagreeing with them. Replacing a competent city manager with a political lackey and giving him a raise won’t cause three hour commutes to or from North Las Vegas. And closing school district offices for a couple of days won’t cause decades-old suburban tract homes in the Truckee Meadows to sell for more than a million dollars.
Things could always be worse. That doesn’t mean they’re fine.
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].