So long, Reno: I’ll miss the community but not the development trajectory

After 46 years, I’m leaving Reno, the city where I’ve spent two-thirds of my life. I’m moving primarily to live closer to my grandchildren, but I’ve also grown frustrated over the lack of a collective vision for Reno’s future that doesn’t feature hundreds of thousands of new residents supported by whatever the developers decide is best.

When I arrived as a fresh college graduate in 1977, it was a difficult adjustment after growing up on the central California coast and attending college at a liberal state school in Sonoma County. Reno was so conservative. The winters were so cold and snowy. The University of Nevada, Reno, offered me free graduate school in return for teaching entry-level Spanish, and I figured I’d get the master’s degree and then head back home.

But like so many California transplants, I settled in and found my people. I learned to ski and enjoyed walking through the silent streets after a big snowfall. In those years, it still seriously snowed all winter long in town. I discovered I didn’t want a career teaching Spanish and studying obscure medieval literature and eventually found fulfilling work in the nonprofit sector, starting the first Food Bank in Nevada. When my mentor, May Shelton, advised me to think about leading the Children’s Cabinet, a new public-private partnership focused on children and families, I said yes. Later, I moved to the district court to develop an array of specialty courts for defendants with behavioral health concerns.

In 1998, when no other Democrat was willing to run in a swing Assembly district representing what we now call Midtown, I said yes again, bolstered by my family, friends and colleagues who were eager for someone with a human-services background to serve alongside the lawyers, teachers and righteous “job creators.” I ended up serving 14 years in the Legislature with some of the smartest and best people I’ve ever known.

During these decades, Reno changed, of course. As a progressive, I embrace change that transforms lives in a positive way. Unfortunately, in recent years, and especially since the advent of Teslaville, I’ve watched Reno deteriorate. Despite innumerable attempts to “clean up” downtown, it’s still rather seedy and unattractive. Housing is unaffordable. Our parks and recreational amenities haven’t kept up with population growth. And the Spaghetti Bowl remains a nightmare.

Far too many local elected officials act like arrogant royalty, lashing out at the peasants who dare to question their actions. They’ve managed to destroy a section of our beautiful riverfront, despite widespread outrage from people who loved the big trees and undeniable charm of Riverside Drive. The City Council won’t allow accessory dwelling units on my street, where there’s an abundance of street parking, and lots are one-third of an acre, instead busily approving massive luxury apartment complexes and promoting an invisible business “district,” which consists mainly of empty lots.

And why, oh why, didn’t Reno use American Rescue Plan dollars to buy up and refurbish downtown motels for people in need of basic housing, as Clark County did? Sure, we have a massive shed jammed with cots; a new, small campground featuring individual pods; and plans for building on-site transitional housing at the Cares campus, but rehabbed motel space could have filled an ongoing, huge gap in housing for the most vulnerable. Instead, we are treated to a City Council that constantly bickers, conducts secret investigations, and engages in futile finger pointing.

There are many things I will miss about Reno, though. Listening to the hawks calling in the morning and the owls conversing at night in my quiet neighborhood just a mile from downtown. Stepping outside and breathing in the morning’s crisp, cool mountain air, even in the heat of summer. Inhaling the indescribable scent of the roses by my mailbox, no doubt planted by the same UNR botany professor who gave me black walnut trees, a Japanese horse chestnut, and one of Reno’s finest tulip magnolias.

I’ll miss my neighbors, my friends, my extended family and the people who repeatedly trusted me with their vote. I’ll miss the staff and readers of the Reno News & Review, many of whom have told me how much they’ve appreciated the views this column expresses.

Thanks for the memories, Reno. I hope your voters start electing leaders who value you more than the developers’ promises that never materialize. You deserve better.