Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2019

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Old opinion could bite union with ballot issue

Referendum on plan for redevelopment would be unconstitutional, it said

The Culinary Union’s ballot initiative to repeal the Las Vegas Redevelopment Plan could be derailed by a Nevada attorney general opinion on a previous voter-led effort to end the redevelopment plan.

The 1995 opinion by then-Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa found that abandoning the redevelopment plan would interfere with existing contracts between the redevelopment agency and its bondholders.

In its conclusion, the attorney general stated: “Referendum simply may not be used to undo the redevelopment plan in this case because the City Council’s adoption of the plan was administrative and not legislative in nature. Additionally, any attempt to place the repeal of the redevelopment plan on the ballot would plainly violate Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution.”

Las Vegas officials said that opinion is an integral part of their strategy to keep the plan intact.

Chris Bohner, research director for the Culinary Union, said he was unfamiliar with the opinion, but is confident the union’s ballot issue would pass muster. “We have structured our referendum so it wouldn’t interfere with any existing bond obligations,” Bohner said.

The union’s ballot issue stems from its opposition to a $266 million bond measure to finance construction of a new city hall, which officials say would precipitate additional development to revitalize downtown.

Culinary leadership has criticized the project as financially irresponsible — the city expects to run a $150 million deficit over the next five years — and the council for leaving voters without a say in whether it should be built.

“The redevelopment plan as it is and has been carried out needs to be scrapped and any future redevelopment projects should be voted on by taxpayers,” said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has countered that the Culinary is taking a hard line on downtown redevelopment projects because proposed casino developers won’t sign card-check agreements with the union.

If the issue reaches the ballot and is passed by voters, city officials say, such a broad-based measure would hamstring their ability to conduct business. The redevelopment plan, and possibly the redevelopment agency, might have to be restructured, officials said.

Relying on the attorney general’s opinion could be a risky strategy. The opinion was not challenged in court and current Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto might not agree with it.

Some observers say all parties might be best served if the issue is resolved before the matter is put before voters.

The Culinary has declared its intent to get the issue before the voters, and failure to do so would be considered a major setback. And the city runs the risk of alienating voters, who might feel they are being left out of the decision-making process.

“It’s probably in everybody’s best interest to have a resolution outside of this being placed on the ballot and not to have to go through that kind of divisive campaign,” said Dan Hart, a local political consultant.

Culinary officials are confidant the ballot question would win voter approval. Obtaining the 3,000 signatures needed to get it before voters, along with another ballot initiative requiring voter approval on future redevelopment projects, is just a formality, they said.

The petition must be submitted by Jan. 23 to be considered in the April 7 primary.

A version of this story appeared in this week’s In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.

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