Agency not necessary - County should learn from failure of central planning schemes elsewhere

EDITORIAL, Las Vegas Review Journal


Las Vegas, Nevada - :When tenants and property owners of the down-at-the-heel Commercial Center on East Sahara protested last month they could be run out of business by fees planned under a proposed county "special use district" there, County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates resurrected an alternative plan -- shelved since 1996 -- to create a county redevelopment agency.

A 1996 consultants' study proposed eight neighborhoods in unincorporated Clark County encompassing more than 12,000 acres -- including the 40-year-old Commercial Center -- be placed in charge of a new county office similar to the City of Las Vegas' Redevelopment Agency.

Under such plans, property tax revenues collected in the designated redevelopment zone are generally frozen at current rates. Money to fund improvements in the redevelopment district is then borrowed at interest, and any increase in tax revenues resulting from this "investment" is captured and poured back in to "bootstrap" the ongoing redevelopment scheme.

That means redevelopment can drain funds that would otherwise flow to other parts of the jurisdiction, explains Jim Mulvihill, a certified urban planner and geography professor at California State University, San Bernardino.

But it was left to senior Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury to voice the clinching argument against such a central-planning scheme.

"It's difficult for government to dictate market-force reaction," Mr. Woodbury pointed out. "The private sector that you are trying to stimulate doesn't respond well to government mandates or dictates."

Indeed. In the natural cycle of urban development, property values in some areas drop over time, until they become attractive enough for a private entrepreneur -- a risk-taker disciplined by the knowledge that failure can mean his or her own bankruptcy -- to buy up large parcels and promote something new.

Municipal redevelopment schemes try to mimic that kind of marketing pizzazz -- but almost inevitably become captive to political and special-interest muscle.

Consider the example set by the adjacent city of Las Vegas, with private properties seized illegally under eminent domain -- tying the city up in court for years -- only to be turned over at bargain prices to the private casino moguls who insist in turn they be protected from any unwelcome competition by new edicts barring gaming from any of the parcels being "redeveloped" ... kind of like trying to redevelop San Francisco's waterfront while banning any new seafood restaurants.

The net result? Aborted or short-lived new downtown enterprises already boarded up or hemorrhaging cash.

Yes, redevelopment is necessary and should be encouraged ... by reducing fees and red tape and creating more leeway in the zoning codes, until private entrepreneurs again find it worthwhile to step in and give it a try.


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