Time to Declare a Moratorium on Growth in Las Vegas
Las Vegas faces a serious crisis.
I’m not just talking about the local economy, where every street corner seems to attract someone holding a cardboard sign and more than 40 percent of homeowners are upside down on their mortgages.
I’m talking about water. More specifically, I’m talking about the increasing lack of it. After all, let’s remember — we live in a desert.
Evidence abounds on the water problem here in the West. The problem is getting worse. Next time you visit Lake Mead, take a look at the white “bathtub ring” surrounding the shores. That’s there the water level is supposed to be. A few months ago, there was an alarming report that Lake Mead (supplied by the Colorado River) has reached its lowest point since the 1930s, when it was created by the construction of Hoover Dam. At the rate things are going, in about twenty years Lake Mead is going to be a giant sandbox.
If this was 50 years ago, the problem wouldn’t be so serious. Back then, the population of Las Vegas was about 100,000. Water sources weren’t stressed out as much. Now, the valley’s population is 15 times that — about 1,500,000 — and it’s still growing. That’s more faucets, toilets, showers, swimming pools, lawns, gardens, restaurants, and golf courses than the sources available for replenishment.
This fact alone warrants a moratorium on all growth in the Las Vegas Valley. [SEE FOOTNOTE BELOW]
But there are other reasons, as well. Namely economic.
Many people still see Las Vegas as a city of opportunity. Unfortunately, the opportunities are considerably greater for some than others. Developers (most of whom live out of state) have been getting super rich here for a long time. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as growth is tempered with responsibility. Unfortunately, at some point during the boom years the gauntlet came down on orderly growth and this city became the 21st Century’s latest gold rush. Oddly enough, during that process, Las Vegas stopped being as exciting as it once was. One can only drive by so many strip malls and fast food joints before realizing that outside the mega-casinos, much of this city looks about the same as a super-sized Albuquerque.
There’s still more than enough allure to make Las Vegas a great place to live. And, I want to keep it that way. In fact, I’ll fight my ass off to keep it that way.
This is best achieved by preserving and protecting the vital resources we have. This means encouraging urban development, instead of urban sprawl. This means providing incentives for developers and buyers to invest in the inner city, rather than digging up lands now dangerously close to threatening the pristine beauty of the surrounding mountains.
Unfortunately, no one seems to be listening. Local government officials, interchangeably linked to the bootstrap of developers and big business, want to seize more government land and build upon it. Rather than use existing property all over the valley which is plentiful, they seek to convert the people’s land to even more houses, apartments, and gas stations.
Here’s a story in today’s newspaper about the release of BLM land for development. LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL (READ STORY HERE)
This prompted me to write and send a Letter to the Editor, which is printed below:
To the Editor:
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to auction off more federal land to developers is an outrage. I can’t imagine a more destructive, ill-timed policy for the local economy and the majority of its residents.
The biggest losers in this charade will be homeowners, most of whom remain badly upside down on their mortgages. Now, with even more government land released for development and more new homes to be built, that means less potential homebuyers will be available for existing properties. In other words, the developers (many of whom aren’t based in Las Vegas) get filthy rich and the working local homeowner who pays taxes and is vested in the local community gets shafted.
Before building thousands of new houses positioned further away from the center of the Las Vegas valley, how about allowing local home prices to return to pre-crash (2008) values? Moreover, shouldn’t our local officials be encouraging the development and revitalization of existing lands, which is plentiful (and cheap) in many parts of our city?
Then, there’s the dangerous environmental impact of unchecked growth. Apparently, the BLM hasn’t heard there’s a serious water shortage here in Southern Nevada that being going on for more than a decade. Where will all the additional water for an estimated 5,500 new homes going to come from? Has anyone thought of that?
Local government should be fighting for us — which means improving the quality of life for locals, not dumping federal land off in a fire sale. Many of us don’t care to return to the so-called boom days when our city grew so fast that infrastructure couldn’t keep up the pace. Instead of sprawling out even more, let’s impose a temporary moratorium on the release of any more federal land until we develop what vacant parcels we have and our home values bounce back. The BLM’s decision (encouraged by city and county officials) will further dwindle our resources and harm local homeowners at the worst possible time, just when the market is starting to improve.
You may know that I’m a Socialist. Proudly so. Here’s what that economic philosophy means on a local level. My proposed “Moratorium on Growth” includes the following:
(1) No more federal land released and sold off to developers. Freeze all federal land sales at least until home prices return to 2008 levels.
(2) Provide tax incentives for businesses to invest in enterprise zones, which should be concentrated mostly in East Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.
(3) Triple the fee for any increase in water consumption by any business or residence (over the current monthly average) and use those additional funds to finance construction of a desalinization plant.
(4) Use Tony Hsieh’s Zappo’s urban revitalization model to attract other businesses to relocate to Las Vegas.
(5) Shut down the Las Vegas Strip to all automobile traffic and declare it a pedestrian-only zone, with a rail line carrying streetcars (ala San Francisco).
(6) Expand the miserable failure called the Las Vegas Monorail all the way out to McCarran Airport and tell the taxi companies to go fuck themselves.
(7) Impose a new residency tax on all people who move to Las Vegas (no one gets a new driver’s license without compliance), at 3 percent of income. Use those funds for infrastructure improvements.
(8) Place a surcharge tax on any corporation based out-of-state who does business in Clark County and kickback those funds to local small businesses in the form of tax relief.
(9) Demand that our local officials demand that California quit wasting precious Colorado River Water on insane agricultural initiatives like growing rice in the Imperial Valley. Rice! Since California rips off most of the water that flows close to Las Vegas, it’s time for our state to go to war over the most precious commodity.
(10) Educate the public that “bigger is not better.” Learn ways to conserve what we have rather than waste what we don’t have.
FOOTNOTE: From the Las Vegas Sun (August 16, 2013)….
“The water level is currently at 1,106 feet, and a continued drop will force serious action by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
At 1,075 feet, a federal water shortage declaration would be triggered, leading to cuts in supply for Nevada and Arizona. The latest projections show the lake could dip below that threshold by April 2015.
If the lake drops below 1,050 feet, it could knock out one of the intake straws the authority uses to pump drinking water from the reservoir to the valley, leading to water shortages.”
LAS VEGAS SUN (READ ARTICLE HERE)