Las Vegas Sun

March 20, 2019

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Hal Rothman recalls a failed citizens’ effort to prevent Red Rock Resort from ever taking root in Summerlin

The opening of Red Rock Resort this past week was a milestone in the Las Vegas Valley, the first "locals casino" to approach $1 billion in cost, but its real significance lies elsewhere. Less than three years ago this very project was the site of a nascent citizens' revolt, what appeared to be a genuine grass-roots movement to slow growth not only near Summerlin, but also throughout the valley. It fizzled, stillborn.

Opponents certainly faced an uphill battle. The permits for the resort were already secured when the opposition took shape. The homeowners had been advised of the plans when they bought their homes. They looked at the open patch of dirt and ignored or did not envision the future. When it arrived, they were unhappy.

Now, anyone who has lived in this valley for long has been guilty of the same thing. Twice I bought a home on the edge of town, hoping to enjoy the desert for a long time. Both times I found myself surrounded by new subdivisions, shopping areas, roads and people. Silly me. By now, I should know better.

The people around Red Rock Resort were different. They may have been gullible like me, but they weren't going to take it. They were going to fight.

But with what? The deal was done, they had been advised - even if they weren't paying attention - and they had little to stand on. They ended up doing battle over a chimera, the height of the structure. Station Casinos wanted to raise the height of its tower to 300 feet; they settled for 200 feet after facing considerable resistance.

This was not a hill to die on. It turned what could have become grass-roots neighborhood advocacy for slow or controlled growth into just another NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard - effort. And don't think it passed unnoticed in the development community. One major player told me at the time that he feared that the battle would start a lot more like it and threaten his industry.

But nothing materialized, not at Red Rock Resort nor out of the battle over developer Jim Rhodes' desire to build 5,500 homes atop Blue Diamond Hill. Bordering Red Rock National Conservation Area on three sides, this effort drew the ire of the townspeople of Blue Diamond, who organized as the Red Rock Citizens' Advisory Council. Even though they amassed a considerable amount of support throughout the community and compelled changes to development regulations by the Clark County Commission as well a state law that constrained development near Red Rock, all this momentum quickly dissipated.

Despite the resentment of engaged citizens and the ensuing action all this seemed to portend, two years later it is hard to see this "citizens' revolt" as any more than a bump in the night.

You could explain this away by saying that we are not there yet, not yet mature enough for organized community-wide opposition to the economic forces that drive the Las Vegas Valley. I think the causes are more insidious.

Nevada's emphasis on individual freedoms spawns a parochial selfishness that encourages people to think that the only interests that matter are their own. We are all guilty of this in some form, for it is part of the air we breathe in the Silver State. This allows community issues to appear smaller, to seem to impact only a specific area. It is easy to look across the valley and say, "What I see over there is someone else's problem." We don't invest in things that don't directly affect us.

This creates a problem for anyone who is not thrilled with the pace of growth. Las Vegas is a post-industrial city, a place where community-wide institutions have devolved into neighborhood-based ones. Whether by accident or design, the overall growth of the city has stretched our social capital, that elusive quality, thin. Add to that the characteristic transience of the valley, and you have a recipe for local advocacy at the expense of larger community goals.

These circumstances guarantee that any opposition to growth is necessarily local, while the pro-growth forces are community-wide. The disparity in power and reach makes this an unfair fight.

But why should we care? The amenities are great, as the opening of Red Rock Resort showed us. The spectacular new resort does everything for you. And I'd wager that you'll find some of the opponents of two years ago among the property's first visitors. But its back story underscores that making community coalesce in the 21st century is no easy trick.