The Las Vegas City Council agreed to split costs with the state for opening a street leading into a low-income neighborhood, but only after a heated, racially charged debate over who should be held responsible for the project.
The council voted 5-2 Wednesday for the agreement to divide the $16 million bill to undo the closure of F Street by a 2008 Interstate 15 widening project. It calls for the city to spend $8 million and the state to pitch in another $8 million. But if the project exceeds $16 million, further spending would come from the city.
Approval means the city and the Nevada Department of Transportation can move forward with accepting bids and start construction as soon as late spring.
Proponents pitched the project as a chance to strike back at historic segregationist policies that separated predominantly black west side neighborhoods from the downtown business and gambling districts.
"It is beyond dollars; dollars don’t matter. What matters is family, we are a family," Mayor Carolyn Goodman said of the prospect of reconnecting F Street to a burgeoning area of downtown that is home to The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, offices and a bustling outlet mall. "I am fully supportive of reopening something that should have never closed in the first place."
But opponents, led by Councilman Bob Coffin, argued against spending money on the project because streets on either side of F Street connect the neighborhood to downtown. Councilman Bob Beers joined Coffin voting against the agreement.
Coffin, a former state legislator, criticized a 2009 bill from the Legislature that forced the reopening project.
Coffin accused Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who was state Senate majority leader at the time, of misleading legislators and bullying city officials into accepting the bill.
He said Horsford pressured legislators to support the bill by saying that residents hadn’t been properly notified in advance of the closing and that the neighborhood would be effectively cut off from downtown.
Legislators, including Coffin, believed an injustice had occurred and thought they were voting to undo it, he said.
"We were misled by our leadership," Coffin said. "We were misled the area had been cut off."
He also accused Horsford of bullying city officials into accepting the arrangement by threatening to cut off city redevelopment money.
"They were told all our redevelopment money would be taken away," Coffin said. "A bully in the Legislature, a boss, threatened the city of Las Vegas."
Horsford denied Coffin’s accusations.
"Comments from certain City Council members regarding Redevelopment Agency funds are not true, and this is simply another diversion from the important issue of reopening F Street," Horsford said via email.
He added, "A community-led effort made reopening legislation into law, and there is no question that the cost of further inaction will seriously hamper economic and educational opportunities for West Las Vegas residents."
West Las Vegas is an area generally bordered by Carey Avenue on the north, Bonanza Road on the south, I-15 on the east and Rancho Drive on the west.
Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, supports reopening F Street but also said on Wednesday that Coffin was accurate in saying legislators didn’t get the whole story before voting on the bill.
"Coffin did have some very legitimate remarks," Munford said. "(Horsford) made it a very special project of his, maybe even for political purposes."
That said, Munford was happy to see the street reopening and said it never should have been closed.
Several residents of the area who attended the meeting were nearly unanimous in their support for reopening the street as well. Some even went so far as to heckle Coffin during his remarks.
During his remarks, Councilman Ricki Barlow, who represents the west side, took offense at Coffin’s depiction of the area as a "little neighborhood."
"I represent good people, I represent taxpayers," Barlow said. "I don’t represent little issues."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285 .