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North Las Vegas officials, neighborhoods spar over grant

Bureaucracy can be a beast.

Tensions are high between residents and officials as cash-strapped North Las Vegas vies for a chance to change its historically downtrodden urban core.

The residents feel they aren’t being heard. The officials — from the city and partnering groups — feel the residents don’t understand how grants work.

At least that was where things settled at a Saturday community meeting where officials and residents exchanged jargon and complaints. More than 20 people attended.

The stakes are this: North Las Vegas is competing with roughly 13 other cities across the nation for $30 million to revitalize dilapidated neighborhoods.

Each of the cities got $485,000 to create a plan.

The city that creates what’s judged to be the best plan will win the money to put its plan into action.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave grants to seven projects spread out over six cities this year. But cities that won planning grants last time and weren’t picked for the $30 million are competing with North Las Vegas as well, said Cass Palmer, director of Neighborhood and Leisure Services for the city.

North Las Vegas has two years from January to finish its plan.

The area in question revolves around Carey Avenue, is tucked in the city’s southeast corner and spans two wards. It includes the public housing project Rose Gardens.

The impetus for Saturday’s venting came from a meeting that Lydia Garrett, president of the North Valley Leadership Team, had with Mayor John Lee about her group’s frustrations. Lee instructed city officials to meet with Garrett’s group and sort everything out.


The leadership team is a nonprofit that formed in 2006 when residents banded together to drive out the crime that had historically plagued their neighborhoods. After years of work, change happened: A problem-plagued apartment complex was condemned and demolished.

Now the group fears that a grant designed to help revitalize what they already have been working for years to revitalize is going to spiral into a situation in which administrators keep them in the dark and do away with their plans.

Administrators attributed much of the tension to the problems inherent in the fact that the grant covers more than the area in which North Valley is invested. The group has a solid plan, but the other areas don’t and need a lot of attention, and it’s tricky to make sure all of that works in harmony for the grant, Palmer said.

“It seems like you are riding on the gravy train,” city Planning Commissioner Laura Perkins said. “You’re not giving them the opportunity to participate fully. And that’s the rub.”

It wasn’t just North Valley residents who were up in arms over the group’s treatment.

“You have ignored them for the last seven months! We’re one-fourth of the way through this thing!” said Bob Mersereau, president of the North Las Vegas Alliance of Homeowner Associations & Concerned Citizens, which is based outside the grant area and meets regularly at the Aliante Library.

There was talk about how “we’re dealing with the federal government” and that there is “a protocol” and “a procedure” that must be followed.

When residents demanded to know more about the hiring of out-of-town EJP Consulting Group, they were told the group wasn’t a developer as they had feared but a “consultant,” a “planning adviser” and a “planning coordinator.”

Residents did not seem to under­stand what that meant. They demanded to know who picked the group.

“We went through a procurement process,” a city official answered.

“Who is we?” the officials were asked.

The subject changed.


When residents brought up the consultant again, Melanie Braud of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority assured them the community was lucky to have the firm’s help.

“Google them!” Braud said. She stressed to residents that “there are huge players at the table” because of the planning grant.

Armena Mnatsakanyan, executive director for Lutheran Social Services of Nevada, told the group she did not understand why they felt left out as she had been in contact with Garrett.

As Mnatsakanyan started to explain that “there are very strict guidelines and it’s just simple grant management,” Garrett interrupted her.

“Hold on — (the residents in the room) don’t even know who you are,” Garrett said.

Mnatsakanyan gave her name and explained she was involved with the project “to manage the people section.”

The sticking point for many at the meeting had to do with an architect. The North Valley group said it handed its plans for its area over to the city only to have the city pick a different architect and slap that person’s name on the North Valley architect’s renderings. City and housing officials told residents they didn’t know about that but would look into it.

As people filtered out of the Pearson Community Center, several residents and officials characterized the meeting to the Review-Journal as “productive.”

Palmer said the city heard loud and clear that residents were unhappy, and he’s taking note. He gave everyone in the room his personal cellphone number. Many people wrote it down.

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes

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