Clark County commissioners-elect Justin Jones and Tick Segerblom are best known for their pet issues — opposing a proposed housing development near Red Rock Canyon and the statewide legalization of marijuana, respectively. But when they are sworn in Jan. 7, they will have their hands on a myriad of challenges facing the county’s more than 2.2 million residents.
Often seen as the most powerful governmental board in the state, the Clark County Commission oversees Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Regional Transportation Commission, the Las Vegas Valley Water District and University Medical Center, among other things. The Clark County Commission also directly oversees city-level services for the more than 1 million people who live in unincorporated areas such as Enterprise, Paradise and Winchester. District F, which Jones will represent, encompasses much of the southwest part of the valley and is almost entirely made up of unincorporated areas. District E, which Segerblom will represent, encompasses part of downtown and a large swath of the eastside of the valley.
The Current caught up with the commissioners-elect to discuss the transition and their plans for the county.
On their predecessors
Jones is succeeding Commissioner Susan Brager. Segerblom is succeeding Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani. Both outgoing commissioners were term limited and unable to run again.
Segerblom said he and and Giunchigliani are philosophically similar, and he just hopes he can fill her knowledgeable shoes. Giunchigliani was easily the most progressive member of the commission. Segerblom added that while he thinks he will bring “fresh eyes” to the commission, he doesn’t expect to move his district in any radically different directions.
The same cannot be said of Jones and Brager, who have had public disagreements with one another. Brager consistently voted in favor of the proposed housing development near Red Rock Canyon while Jones helped lead public opposition to it. Although they are both Democrats, Brager endorsed the Republican who ran against Jones. Despite that, Jones says the outgoing commissioner has been welcoming of him since the election.
“I appreciate the 12 years Commissioner Brager has put in. She has done a lot of good, but we’ve had disagreements. There’ll be a different approach.”
He adds there are projects in his district that have been allowed to stall.
“Maybe it’s time to go in a different direction with them,” he added.
On the commissioners vs. state legislators
Both Jones and Segerblom served in the Nevada Senate. Jones represented a newly redistricted Senate District 9 in 2013 but was defeated during his reelection bid in 2014. Segerblom represented Senate District 3 from 2012 until his commission win this year, after which he stepped down and indirectly ushered in the state’s first female-majority legislature. Segerblom also previously served in the Nevada Assembly.
Segerblom noted that he was “shocked” to discover how few dedicated resources the commissioners have. He said they have two and a half staffers instead of the small army state legislators have.
He also noted that the process is markedly different due to open meeting laws. As a legislator, he could float proposals around and call a hearing once he felt he had the support. Commissioners cannot do that and are only supposed to discuss issues during agendized meetings.
On what issues are most urgent
When asked to identify the most urgent issue facing Southern Nevadans, Segerblom couldn’t pick just one — “overcrowded schools and roads, homelessness and quality of life.”
Jones said one of the most urgent issues is health care. A federal judge in Texas last week ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The ruling is being appealed. Should the decision be upheld, it could create a crisis situation for residents and healthcare institutions like UMC, say Jones.
UMC lost money for years and has attributed its turnaround in large part to the Affordable Care Act, which resulted in the hospital receiving more payments from Medicaid. Losing that could create financial problems that the county would have to grapple with as the hospital’s overseer.
On what county government needs
Segerblom said he likes the idea of the county having a neighborhood services department that coordinates neighborhood-level issues and programs. The City of Las Vegas has one that brings together parks and recreation, homelessness and housing assistance, neighborhood associations and special events.
Adds Segerblom, “It’s something where we can say, ‘Take care of it.’”
Jones would like to see the county be more proactive when it comes to economic development. He says the City of Las Vegas spends $40 million on economic development, whereas the county has no dedicated line item or staff member to work on economic development.
“We also have redevelopment dollars,” said Jones, “and there are definitely some places that need some love.”
Segerblom agreed and even had a suggestion on where that could begin: “Chinatown could be a world-class place.”
On affordable housing
Jones says it is the responsibility of elected officials to push back on “false narratives” like the notion that apartment complexes create crime. Doing so can help further an effort to create affordable housing options throughout the valley.
“From a zoning perspective, you must have a mix,” he says.
He says affordable housing needs to be coordinated with public transportation, which creates a unique challenge. Affordable housing residents need access to public transportation options; bus routes can be expanded when there is ridership. But which comes first?
“It’s a bit of a chicken-egg thing,” says Jones. “Someone needs to bite the bullet.”
The Clark County Commission does not oversee the Clark County School District. However, Segerblom believes there could be better coordination between the county and the individual “school organizational teams” that are supposed to make school decisions.
“We can’t be in silos,” says Segerblom. “We don’t talk to each other.”
Before vacating his legislative seat, Segerblom submitted a proposal to make the CCSD school board districts identical to Clark County Commission districts. He believes the change would allow for better input and coordination.
Jones says there are ample opportunities for the county to partner with the district, whether that be through opening up school facilities for public use, or providing more before- and after-school care that helps children and families.
On raising taxes
Segerblom isn’t afraid to suggest raising taxes in order to fund specific issues. While he most often suggests raising sales tax, he says he only uses that as one possibility and is open to other types of tax increases. Marijuana isn’t being taxed to its full potential, for example. There may be other taxes that aren’t set at their state-mandated limit, he says, and those should be explored.
Segerblom added that people are “ready and willing” to pay more taxes if the money goes toward specific purposes or causes, like homelessness or schools.
The City of Las Vegas has proposed increasing the real property transfer tax and adding a sewer service charge in order to fund transitional housing, affordable housing and their homeless courtyard project. The former tax is regional. Segerblom said he would support such a measure.
On that proposed Red Rock development
Jones expects the issue of the proposed housing development just outside of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation will be “hot and heavy” come January. After the sitting commission punted on developers last month, the next vote is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Jones has promised to oppose the project, and he continues to dismiss the idea that he should recuse himself from the issue because he previously served as the lawyer for Save Red Rock, the nonprofit group that has led the opposition against the project. A lawsuit involving Save Red Rock, Clark County and the developers was dropped by Save Red Rock days before the election. Jones says he has asked the Nevada Ethics Commission to weigh in on the matter. He expects them to find zero conflict of interest and put the issue to rest.
Not surprisingly, Segerblom believes the county needs to embrace marijuana “starting tomorrow.” Specifically, he believes they need to address the issue of public consumption. Current law allows only for use in private residences, causing an obvious issue for tourists.
“Perfect is the enemy of good,” he said. “We can’t wait until we have a plan that is exactly perfect. People are buying it and using it now.”
In what came as a surprise to dispensary owners, the sitting county commissioners last week unanimously voted to put an indefinite moratorium on approving new recreational-only pot dispensaries. The move happened at the final meeting for Brager, Giunchigliani and Commission Chair Steve Sisolak, who is headed to the governor’s mansion come January. The vote largely seemed motivated by a concern that medical marijuana users are being ignored.
Segerblom’s presence on the commission will bring a new level of expertise on all marijuana issues. Segerblom was largely seen as the biggest proponent of legalizing marijuana across the state. It will surprise no one if he asks the next iteration of the commission to revisit the issue.