Hizzoner harrumphs himself into more self-delusion

Expanded from the 4-28-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Hizzoner harrumphed his way through his final state of the city address last week. Everything's as rosy as a posy in the pink of spring. Don'tcha worry about a thing.

What a guy. Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin has gone from the candidate who called homeless people "human debris" to the benevolent savior of western Nevada, if not the western world. (Perhaps that comes next.)

The greatest joke Griffin played on the constituents he holds in contempt is the mind-boggling amount of corporate welfare doled out on his watch.

In all fairness, he was merely following a great Nevada tradition. About a third of the taxes paid to the state by the gambling industry are returned through the back door by corporate welfare dispensers such as downtown redevelopment agencies and convention and visitors authorities.

Nevada's goofy taxation system has local governments cutting each other's throats in competition for new revenue. Thus the current fight over who gets to glom the taxes from new development. The cities want to expand and residents of Washoe County fight it fang and claw. The minute your house is annexed, your taxes skyrocket.

The cities are always desperate to replace the revenue lost through casino tax subsidies. Reno and Sparks have little choice but to grow as fast as possible.

That's why I found most ridiculous Griffin's assertion blaming the Washoe County Commission for unchecked growth outside the city. He even tried to paint himself as an advocate of controlled growth, blasting the commission for "approving all that sprawl outside the city."

Nobody can play holier-than-thou in the controlled growth game. Look at the formerly sacrosanct hilltops of Reno and Sparks. At one time, they were supposed to be free from houses. But developers can sell homes with a valley view for a lot higher price. So many of our skylines have sprouted terminal zits with no cure in sight.

This case of urban acne stands as a gross testament to our adolescence as a community as reflected by the childishness of some of the leaders we elect.

Griffin talked about the success of downtown redevelopment, how millions of people now come to downtown Reno. (If millions hadn't been coming already, the Silver Legacy never would have been built.)

Nonetheless, Griffin pointed with pride to those union-busting, monopolistic Syufy movie theaters. Hizzoner conveniently forgot what he himself said about the movie biz. In a rare bout of candor in 1997, he made the mistake of telling the truth to KOLO TV-8 interviewer Sam Shad.

I noted at the time that "contrary to previous public statements, the city did research the market feasibility of more movie theaters. Prior to this, the only known current survey was done by Regal Theaters which refused to give it to the council.

"'As part of our due diligence, we did a market survey,' Griffin said. 'There's a market in Reno and Sparks - forget about Carson and so forth - for around 34 screens. That's about what's on the drawing board and what's going to actually be built.'"

Five years ago, I counted a little over 60 screens either operating or in the pipeline. So where are we today? Syufy enjoys a government-facilitated monopoly on first-run films and moviegoers have far fewer choices. Syufy currently operates 42 screens in Reno and Sparks, with four more at the El Rancho Drive-In during the summer. The only non-Syufy outlets exist in places like the National Bowling Stadium which don't serve up first-run mainstream fare.

Syufy cut a secret deal to buy out Regal, the original owner of the downtown Reno 12-plex, before it even opened. The U.S. Dept. of Justice was reported to have been looking into the transaction, but no more has been heard, especially now with Dubya in charge.

Not even counting the demolition of Syufy's Century multiplex at the Peppermill, at least 14 screens have gone dark since Syufy acquired monopoly domination. Had Syufy not bought the publicly-funded 12-plex in downtown Reno, they would own exactly 34 screens, equalling Griffin's magic number.

Using his own figures, the movie theaters have thus not generated new people or revenue. They have just shifted a fixed pool of dollars around.

Griffin pushed for demolition of the venerable Mapes Hotel, excusing it as a way to get more property on the tax rolls. (Given its location, any new property taxes generated at the Mapes site would be earmarked for downtown corporate welfare.)

Now, he thinks the long-vacant Mapes site could become a nice plaza as Reno City Hall moves into the black glass behemoth currently known as the Cal-Neva building. This will remove even more property from the tax rolls.

Both Reno and Sparks have huge holes in their revenue bases because all taxes generated from downtown property value appreciation must stay downtown to do things like build Reno a second convention center.

All of this reflects not the policy of the City of Reno as much as it reflects the wishes of N. Virginia St. casino owners.

In 1993, the Reno Gazette-Journal asked a list of heavy hitters what to do with the riverfront. Eldorado/Silver Legacy owner Don Carano said he'd like government buildings. With the notable exception of the Siena Hotel, that's exactly what happened. The gambling moguls have made sure that no major competitor builds on the riverfront, the most attractive part of the valley.

Many years ago, the late Reno City Councilman Jud Allen told me that the N. Virginia St. bosses had seen the center of downtown tourist traffic shift from the river to the railroad tracks. They wanted nothing to happen which might reverse the flow. Nothing has.

Hizzoner has backed placing obscene sums of public money into self-fulfilling prophecy. If the city had not spent millions subsidizing summertime special events and movie theaters, Griffin's overstated "millions" of people would be substantially reduced.

The N. Virginia boys will now have a publicly-funded convention center to link to their skyways. Nobody in power has ever dared ask "is it worth it?" Downtowns are simply dinosaurs from an era long gone when far fewer people walked the earth.

Jeff Griffin is a throwback to the politics of bloviated bluster now out of fashion in much of America. As usual, Nevada is a couple of decades behind.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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