The headline on the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial reads “New commissioner should recuse himself on Blue Diamond Hill development”.
The editorial goes on to question why Save Red Rock, a citizens group represented by Clark County commissioner-elect Justin Jones, announced after the election it’s dropping its lawsuit against the County and Jim Rhodes’ Gypsum Resources. Rhodes is the developer who has been at odds with the government for 15 years over his plan to someday turn a mined gypsum quarry into an exclusive enclave of 3,000 to 5,000 hilltop homes overlooking the Las Vegas valley.
“Save Red Rock now believes it may be a (sic) more fruitful to lobby the commission rather than to fight the development in court,” says the RJ editorial. “The change of tactics wouldn’t have anything to do with Mr. Jones ascension to the board, would it? Perish the thought.”
The premise of the editorial – that Save Red Rock dropped its suit in light of Jones’ victory — is incorrect.
Outgoing Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager, who endorsed Jones’ opponent in the race for Brager’s seat, says Jones notified her of the lawsuit’s demise days before the election.
“I saw Justin at an event on the last day of early voting,” Brager said in an interview. “He asked if I had spoken with Rob Warhola (a Clark County attorney) and told me they were dropping the suit.”
Although the premise on which the RJ editorial is based is incorrect, the question of Jones’ ability to vote on matters involving Red Rock is legitimate.
“I don’t know how he can vote after representing Save Red Rock. If that’s not a conflict I don’t know what is” said Brager.
But is it? Does the law allow for Jones to shift from legal advocate for Save Red Rock to elected advocate?
Jones thinks it does.
“With the litigation resolved, there is no present conflict,” Jones told the Current in an email. “Nevada law/ethics opinions favor officials voting on matters of public concern unless they have a pecuniary interest; however, I anticipate that the DA and/or Ethics Commission will have to weigh in in the event that Gypsum seeks to move forward with its project and advance an agenda item after I take office in January.”
“Pecuniary interest” means an interest that would result in a financial gain or loss for the public official.
Unlike judges, commissioners, who are heavily lobbied, rarely approach agenda items with open minds.
At a 2016 planning commission meeting, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who knew the Blue Diamond Hill development would likely come before her again, testified against a proposed plan submitted by Gypsum Resources. The planning commission voted to reject the proposal.
In October, Gypsum Resources asked to waive a requirement that the developer obtain right-of-way permission from the Bureau of Land Management for an access road before submitting to the county a site-specific plan for consideration.
Two years ago, at an October 2016 planning commission meeting, Ron Krater, the project’s spokesman, noted, “From the beginning we’ve continued to support that obligation to build a new road.”
Krater stated the company made the agreement “from the beginning and it’s not going to change.”
The county commission imposed the requirement back in 2011. County commissioners, sitting as the Zoning Board, were tentatively scheduled to hear that item on December 5.
But last month, outgoing commissioner and Governor-elect Steve Sisolak suggested holding off on the Gypsum Development item until new commission members are seated in January.
“I will not be a party to a lame-duck vote on such an important matter and I support allowing the next iteration of the county commission being granted the opportunity to weigh in on this issue,” Sisolak said of the saga, that dates back 15 years and several iterations of the county commission. His announcement was welcomed by development opponents.
Sisolak received campaign contributions of $10,000 in 2015 and $10,000 in 2017 from Jay Brown, an attorney representing Rhodes. Brown’s wife, Sharyn, also contributed $10,000 to Sisolak in 2017.
In February 2017, Brager, Sisolak, Larry Brown, Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Mary Beth Scow voted to allow Gypsum Development to withdraw its application and reapply in the future.
Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly voted against the plan.
Political supporters of Jones say they don’t feel misled by the post-election announcement to dump the lawsuit.
“We do not question Justin Jones’ leadership on Red Rock. Justin has always been a champion,” says Andy Maggi of the Nevada Conservation League. “We spent $150,000 on our activities to get Justin on the commission. We don’t feel baited and switched.”
Maggi says Jones’ support for protecting Blue Diamond Hill should come as no surprise.
“He ran as a Red Rock guy.”
And Maggi notes the “Red Rock contingent on the county commission is growing. Not only did Justin get elected but Tick Segerblom did as well, and he has been an advocate for saving Red Rock.”
And that stronger “Red Rock contingent” would be making decisions about the development, if Sisolak’s request to delay action is heeded.
The lawsuit dropped by Save Red Rock hinged on whether the County should proceed under an approved 2011 concept plan or under a 2016 plan that commissioners approved in February of 2017.
“The 2011 Plan has favorable conditions that require Gypsum to complete the BLM right-of-way process before approval of a specific plan; the 2016 Plan does not. Save Red Rock made the decision that it’s (sic) resources and political capital were better spent fighting the project on the merits under the 2011 Plan than under the 2016 Plan,” Jones told the Current.