Councilman, activist now question reopening of F Street

A Las Vegas councilman and a community activist are second-guessing a plan for the city to spend another
$20 million reopening a blocked street in a low-income neighborhood.

On Wednesday, Councilman Bob Coffin and activist and former mayoral candidate Katie Duncan questioned the wisdom behind the effort to reopen
F Street, a thoroughfare in a historically black neighborhood that was the subject of controversy in 2008 when an Interstate 15 widening project permanently blocked the street.

At the time, residents in the area, including Duncan, said the closure segregated the neighborhood from the rest of downtown and was a reminder of a period in Las Vegas history in which black residents were isolated to the neighborhood.

Although Duncan and Coffin raised questions about proceeding, another community activist and the councilman who represents the district where the project is located said support for reopening the street is strong.

Still, Coffin said after the meeting there are enough questions to warrant further study of the necessity of the project.

The controversy made it to the Legislature, which in 2009 passed a bill that mandated the street be reopened with the city paying up to $22.5 million and the state picking up costs beyond that amount.

At the time legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the costs were a bargain compared with the potential costs of losing a lawsuit should a court determine the closure was improper.

The doubts raised Wednesday came during a discussion of the city’s redevelopment agency, which is made up of City Council members, about an agenda item to authorize spending $2.5 million on the design portion of the project.

The redevelopment agency and the council approved the measure unanimously but not before Coffin and Duncan said the city might be wise to stop the project.

“I am not a certain vote for continuation of spending money after this first $2.5 million,” Coffin said.

Afterward, Duncan said the reduction in traffic and other unintended consequences of the blockade have been an improvement for the people who live and own property along the street.

“The homeless people are now on the other side instead of our side,” said Duncan, who was once a critic of the closure.

Councilman Ricki Barlow — the project is in his Ward 5 — was clearly irritated by the criticism.

Barlow said it is too late to reverse the project because the Legislature has directed the city to move forward. He also said Duncan and another resident who showed up did not represent the will of the broader community.

“It is only a couple people, and she is one of the couple people I am referencing,” Barlow said of Duncan. “Other than that there are hundreds of people who have come before this council on separate occasions” in favor of reopening the street.

Coffin, a former state senator, said just because the Legislature acted doesn’t mean the reopening is a done deal.

He said legislators were told in 2009 that the city and Nevada Department of Transportation didn’t properly notify people near the closure about the pending project.

Since then, Coffin said he learned from city staff members that wasn’t true and that plenty of notice was given.

Trish Geran, a former neighborhood resident whose mother still lives in the area, said support for reopening the street remains strong.

Access to the neighborhood, she said, has been a controversial issue for decades, and residents have had to fight to prevent street closures.

“It is not about going around the block. It is about doing things for that community that they want done. It is a principle of the thing,” Geran said.

Geran, chairwoman and founder of the F Street Coalition, said she and other residents won’t let anyone stand in the way of reopening.

“Katherine Duncan does not speak for us,” she said.

Barlow said that until Wednesday’s meeting, he hadn’t heard any other objections to the reopening from people in the community near the project.

“The majority still remain and continue to emphatically proclaim they are in favor of open access for commerce to flow in and out of the community,” he said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at
bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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