Culinary takes city hall case to District Court

Lawyers for the city of Las Vegas and the Culinary union will meet again Tuesday to argue over a pair of ballot measures the union says must be put on the June 2 municipal ballot but the city says could unlawfully devastate downtown redevelopment.

It’s a fight sparked in part by Las Vegas’ pursuit of a new city hall building, a project Culinary Local 226 leaders have called wasteful during a time of economic uncertainty.

Today, the Culinary union filed a lawsuit in District Court asking a judge to order the city to place their measures on the ballot. The union first took their request to the Nevada Supreme Court, which on Wednesday told the union it needed to take its case to the lower court first.

Mayor Oscar Goodman said this week that the city hopes to get the financing for the project in place as soon as this month, with a possible summer groundbreaking.

“It looks like there is a market for it,” he said.

Previously, though, city officials have said that ballot measures challenging the city’s redevelopment plan could complicate efforts to find the financing, and City Attorney Brad Jerbic has been apocalyptic in describing what would happen if the measures are approved.

One of the ballot measures would repeal the existing redevelopment plan, which uses increased tax revenue from new development within a defined area to provide incentives for further development in that area.

The other would require a public vote on “lease-purchase” agreements, which is the financing method proposed for the new city hall project.

The City Council voted not to put the measures on the June 2 ballot after hearing from Jerbic, who said they would unconstitutionally interfere with existing contracts if approved and lead to a tsunami of litigation. The measures also intrude into nonlegislative areas, which are off-limits to voter petitions, he argued.

It’s long past time to challenge the measures on technical grounds, the union’s court filing argues, and challenges to the substance of the measure aren’t allowed until after a vote is taken.

“The council’s failure to perform its ministerial duty was based solely on the contention of the city attorney that the measures would be unconstitutional if adopted,” the lawsuit states. “The city attorney’s contentions are utterly baseless. “In any case, it is an objection addressed purely to the substance of the measures, which this court has made clear is no basis for refusing to let voters vote upon the issue.”

The time for those challenges is afterward, the lawsuit argues, since judges have more time to research the merits of the legal challenges.

While the union says it’s trying to protect the public’s right to vote on important civic matters, Goodman pitches the downtown projects as desperately needed economic stimulation, including casino projects that could directly benefit Culinary members.

“I think it’s insane that the Culinary is trying to stop jobs from being created here,” he said. “I’m not talking about the rank and file. They’re good people. They’re the people who are the backbone of this community. I’m talking about the upper-level people.

“Taking jobs away from their members’ families, taking jobs away from their members — to me, that is a breach of their fiduciary responsibilities.”

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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