COLUMN: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
March 7, 2001
No City is Any Better Than its Downtown
Las Vegas retail home values rose only 1.8% last year compared to 6% for the rest of the Sun
Local politicians are giving corporate welfare to home builder/campaign contributor friends at the
expense of long time Las Vegas home owners and our downtown's redevelopment.
New home prices in LV are so artificially low that they are ruining our older neighborhoods. We
are being taxed to subsidize new schools, new parks, new libraries, etc., for the benefit of new
homebuilders who compete with our older neighborhoods for homebuyers. The developers
compete with us by including color photos of new tax payer funded civic amenities in their sales
brochures - amenities partly paid for by those of us who chose to live in older neighborhoods.
Many Las Vegans are reluctant to improve their older homes because resale home values are not
keeping up with inflation, therefore a disproportionate number of our town's older homes are
becoming rentals, or worse -- repossessions.
Our city is rotting from the inside out while the developers and politicians celebrate.
New home buyers are thrilled to find that new elementary and middle schools are nearby along
with brand new seven-acre "pocket" parks, community colleges, neighborhood casinos, fire and
police stations, and new shopping centers.
Meanwhile older neighborhoods languish. The only reason that new residents would opt for an
older home nearer the city center was if Summerlin and Green Valley home prices were more in
line with similar Sun Belt cities - but they’re not. Summerlin houses sell for far less than the
national average for equal size homes -- a real bargain and one of the reasons that over 6,000
new residents move to Las Vegas each month.
If new Southern Nevadans looked into the heart of our city they would find beautiful tree lined
neighborhoods that are lacking state of the art schools or attractive shopping centers within
walking distance. And of course the older neighborhoods are a patchwork of newly refurbished
and dilapidated houses selling for what they sold for twenty years ago. Few existing Las Vegas
homes have increased value in relation to CPI. The artificially low price of new homes on the
outskirts of town is just too compelling.
It is obvious why our inner city is decaying. How can our Downtown compete with taxpayer
subsidized new neighborhoods with all the amenities when our resale home values are less than
The irony is that in twenty more years of taxpayer subsidized new home development, those new
neighborhoods including Green Valley and Summerlin are guaranteed to look like the older
neighborhoods in Downtown and North Las Vegas. Why? Because the resale home values of
our newer previously owned homes in neighborhoods in Green Valley and Summerlin are also
well below the national average because of even newer home competition!
This dilemma is guaranteed to continue until homebuilders run out of vacant land to build on, or
until new home buyers are made to pay for their own schools, roads, parks, etc., through impact
fees or Special Improvement Districts.
To find examples of how to correct many of the above-mentioned problems I look to other more
mature cities. Examples of Smart Growth are easy to find and include the prudent use of Special
Improvement Districts and tax incentives.
When it is obvious that a developer is only interested in building higher density on what was once
rural land, progressive city governments offer tax incentives to the builder to encourage in-fill. In
today's Las Vegas, our leaders hold a political fundraiser instead!
When a politically connected developer pressures politicians to provide taxpayer paid for
amenities such as new schools, police substations, libraries, fire stations, and parks, progressive
city governments implement Special Improvement Districts to cause the developers to chip in
money to pay for such amenities. Not here!
Existing homeowners who chose to live in the urban core of our city should not be shouldered
with the expense of paying for the construction and maintenance of amenities that will only benefit
those who chose to live far from Downtown. Furthermore, when inner city dwellers need to
refurbish their schools, parks, etc., their needs should be considered before the developer's
demands to build new, new, new!
In the meantime, the attorneys and consultants who make the lavish presentations before our City
Councils and County Commission act as fundraisers during political campaigns. Keep in mind
that Las Vegas City Councilman Mike McDonald raised $700,000 for his reelection in 1999,
and County Commissioner Erin Kenny topped $1 million during her last race - most of it from
Are there strings attached to these contributions? No. There are CHAINS attached to such
outrageous political bounteousness!
In the meantime, the quality of life in the center of our valley is floundering while the quality of life
on the outskirts of the valley is thriving.
The irony of it all is that the thriving communities of inexpensive three bedroom, two and a half
bath homes with three car garages in Summerlin and Green Valley will soon deteriorate and also
become rentals as did similar houses in the center of the valley. The artificially low prices of even
newer homes on the distant outskirts of town will soon be even more compelling to newcomers if
corporate welfare continues at inner city taxpayer's expense!
Instead of encouraging "Town Centers," our leaders should be rehabilitating our Downtown to
make it attractive to in-fill developers, and walk-to-workers.
I admire Mayor Oscar Goodman for realizing that his own downtown home in Scotch Eighties is
being threatened by the selfish real estate developers who have free access to the Council offices
at City Hall. Now it is time for Oscar to offer those same developers tax breaks if they opt to
in-fill. If not, he must implement Special Improvement Districts and cut off the tax supported
largesse when they opt to continue raping every inch of our beautiful outlying high desert valley.
Las Vegas is proving that no city is any better than its Downtown.
Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation
Commissioner. He was also the author and sponsor of the City of Las Vegas Ethics in
Government Law. Mr. Miller writes a weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune. Visit his website