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September 18, 2019

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municipal general election:

In crowded Ward 2 council race, most keep quiet on Badlands battle

Badlands Golf Course

Christopher DeVargas

A look at the old Badlands Golf Course, which sits in a natural ravine, surrounded by the Queensridge master-planned community, Monday Feb 19, 2018.

A debate over the redevelopment of a closed golf course in one of the Valley’s wealthiest neighborhoods was the defining issue in the 2017 Las Vegas City Council race in Ward 2.

Encompassing western Las Vegas and Summerlin, Ward 2 has an open seat on the council once again, and seven candidates have jumped into the race. But this time around, most have chosen not to make the future of the defunct Badlands Golf Course a focal point of their campaigns—at least not explicitly.

Candidates running include contract analyst Patsy Brown, retired small-business owner Bruce Feher, public relations executive Hilarie Grey, attorney Derrick Penney, developer Richard Plaster, real estate agent and former Republican Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, and College of Southern Nevada instructor and former Republican Assemblywoman Valerie Weber. All seven will face off in a winner-take-all special election June 11, the same day as the general municipal election.

The seat in Ward 2 has been vacant since March, when former councilman Steve Seroka abruptly resigned for unspecified reasons. Seroka was elected in 2017 on a platform critical of a proposal to turn Badlands into a large housing development, saying it was unfair to neighbors who bought property nearby expecting to have open space in their community. He defeated then-incumbent Bob Beers, who had voted in favor of one Badlands proposal while on the council.

In December, Seroka became subject to a recall attempt initiated by Seaman and two others, Kim Fergus and Ulrira Miyashiro (Seaman denies having instigated the recall). The recall campaign alleged that Seroka was only representing the interests of residents in the wealthy Queensridge neighborhood, where Badlands is located. Seroka resigned before the effort scored enough signatures to move forward.

Seaman entered the race shortly thereafter, having previously pledged to challenge Seroka if the recall effort prevailed. She said she was inspired to run by talking to voters who knew her as their assemblywoman between 2014 and 2016.

“[Voters] were reaching out to me during the time when all the lawsuits were happening,” said Seaman, referring to the 11 ongoing lawsuits pending against the city associated with its handling of the Badlands proposal. “People of the ward didn’t feel like they were all being represented.”

During the past four years, the city spent more than $747,000 in legal fees from Badlands court cases, city spokesperson Jace Radke said. The Badlands developer and opponents of the proposal have sued the city for bias in its handling of the case and on other grounds.

Seaman described the lawsuits as a waste of taxpayer money and criticized city officials for failing to reach a solution without litigation.

“I’m always going to be there and make sure we’re not wasting money when we can be solving problems,” she said.

Seaman, who also ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the state Senate in 2016 and briefly for Congress in 2018 (she bowed out of that race after President Donald Trump endorsed fellow Republican Danny Tarkanian), described herself as a problem-solver with a record of bipartisanship and strong communication with constituents.

Despite her criticism of Seroka’s handling of the Badlands case, she added that residents are more concerned about how the vacant golf course could draw crime and squatting to the neighborhood, two issues she would prioritize if elected. Taking a specific stance on Badlands now, she added, is a moot point.

“Now it’s in the courts, and the city council doesn’t have control over what the courts are going to do,” she said.

Seaman is one of two candidates in the race with representative government experience. The other is Weber, who served three terms in the Assembly from 2002-08. She also ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2018.

Weber touted her bipartisanship from her time in the Assembly and collaborative leadership style as assets she would bring to the city council. If elected, she would also prioritize making city government “effective and efficient” and work to improve communication between city staff, council members and residents.

The ward is experiencing tensions between “quality of life and development,” Weber believes, perhaps best exemplified by the Badlands case. On that case specifically, she expressed sympathy for the concerns of Queensridge residents.

“The neighbors are just devastated that the beauty of their surroundings doesn’t look like the Mojave Desert,” she said, referring to the blighted state of the property. “I would hope there’s a way to mitigate our path forward so this doesn’t happen in any other neighborhoods.”

Grey expressed concern as well about high-density development and growth generally in Ward 2. She sees the battle over Badlands as a symptom of a larger problem, much of which consists of master-planned communities.

“I think one of the biggest issues we need to look at is protecting neighborhoods, from a public safety standpoint, but also to make sure growth doesn’t get ahead of infrastructure,” Grey said.

Now the managing director of corporate communications for Allegiant Airlines, Grey previously worked for the City of Las Vegas, Clark County, UNLV and the Congresswoman Dina Titus. She said these experiences have given her insight on how to create a more “livable” city, the need to diversify the region’s economy and on the importance of restoring ethics and transparency in local government.

Grey pointed to her endorsements from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, labor unions including Las Vegas Firefighters 1285 and the Southern Nevada Building Trades Council, and others as evidence of her qualifications and wide-reaching support.

Crime and the changing Ward 2

While Grey, Seaman and Weber are highlighting their connections and experience, the other candidates take pride in their status as political outsiders.

At age 44, Brown noted that she is the youngest in the race and said her experience with children in public schools inspired her to run. School safety and inclusivity initiatives in schools—especially following a racist incident at the predominantly white Palo Verde High School in Summerlin, which her daughter attends—would be priorities for Brown if elected.

She would also strive to improve communication with constituents, which she said emerged as the No. 1 issue from conversations city staff in various departments.

As for her stance on Badlands, Brown maintains that she’s “always in favor of development” as critical for the future of the ward. Her campaign website also lists support for “fiscal responsibility” and improvements in pedestrian safety.

Feher’s priorities would be addressing crime, homelessness and the effects of the opioid epidemic, all of which he says are on the rise in the community [Ward 2 is whiter, wealthier and has a lower homelessness rate than the city as a whole]. In addition, he wants the city to invest more in public transportation, public education and in diversifying the economy.

“We cannot continually rely on the casinos to do all the heavy lifting,” Feher said.

On Badlands, Feher lamented how the city “got caught in the crossfire” of the debate, and the fact that taxpayers are footing the legal bills.

“I sympathize with the [Queenrsidge] residents, I really do,” Feher said. “And I respect the developer’s perspective. But something has to be worked out. What that is, I’m open.”

Plaster agrees that crime and homelessness are rising issues. A developer himself who has built more than 12,500 homes in the Valley, he would push for the construction of more affordable homes as a solution to the growing homelessness crisis in the region.

“In a country as rich as ours and a community as rich as ours, we shouldn’t have this type of situation,” Plaster said.

Regarding Badlands and the race in general, Plaster described himself as a political outsider, rather than an “aspiring professional politician,” and said he would approach all issues in a neutral, even-handed manner.

“I like to look at myself as being independent,” he said.

Penney also characterizes himself as an independent and said he would prioritize “sustainable growth.” In addition, he would push to bring light rail to Las Vegas, something the Regional Transportation Commission Board recently voted against for Maryland Parkway.

On Badlands, Penney said he would approach that debate the same way he would all development in the neighborhood: Developers must communicate and compromise with residents. He further believes his background as an attorney would allow him to “see both sides” of that and all issues.

“The thing about Summerlin is it’s a planned community, and you’ve got to maintain the character of the community,” Penney added.

Badlands in the background

Although Badlands hasn’t been the defining issue for most candidates, the controversy remains relevant to those with a direct stake.

Frank Schreck, a Queensridge resident and outspoken critic of the Badlands proposal involved in one lawsuit against the city, believes that most Ward 2 residents sympathize with the Queensridge neighborhood in its fight against large-scale Badlands redevelopment. That’s in part because the ward has a high homeowner population, he said.

“The issue that … has resonated is just neighborhood rights: Do you have any protection against a developer coming in, and in our case, irresponsibly taking action without really consulting with the community at all?” Schreck said.

EHB Companies, which owns Badlands, expressed hope that the next representative elected wouldn’t further the delay the company’s ability to develop housing on the land, which is zoned for single-family residences.

“The new city councilperson must be willing to consider a different course of action,” a representative of EHB wrote in an email.

Councilman Bob Coffin, who represents Ward 3 and has been critical of the Badlands proposal, said that even though there hasn’t been a lot of noise about the Ward 2 race, the Badlands controversy looms in the background.

“Everybody knows it’s a one-issue campaign,” Coffin said.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.