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Las Vegas mayoral candidates’ positions on the Badlands legal dispute

The next Las Vegas mayor will likely inherit the yearslong legal battle between the city and the would-be developer of the Badlands golf course.

If Las Vegas’ court losses continue to mount — and the city’s court appeals are unsuccessful — lawsuits filed by EHB Cos. could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Las Vegas City Council could decide to settle the matter out of court. A proposed $64 million settlement collapsed hours before it was set for public discussion at City Hall in 2022. EHB CEO Yohan Lowie at the time argued that the city had made last-minute changes to the terms.

Plans to build on the golf course began to stall shortly after its 2015 purchase when residents of the upscale Queensridge neighborhood that surrounds the course objected, citing fears of high density and dwindling property values.

Four lawsuits in various stages of litigation allege that the city illegally took property by not approving land-use entitlements.

Courts have ruled in favor of the developer in three cases, awarding EHB about $237 million so far, including a recent Nevada Supreme Court ruling. The fourth suit for a larger parcel of land is pending.

Las Vegas officials broke their silence publicly this month and defended continuing the court battle, arguing that the city exercised its authority like it would for any other project.

Officials alleged that the developer was seeking “hundreds of millions of dollars for a settlement on land that his company purchased for far less, along with a much higher density of homes than was ever envisioned.”

EHB denied the claim and said that Las Vegas had stonewalled discussions with “continual delays and aggressive legal tactics.”

However, the city and EHB separately suggested they’re willing to negotiate a settlement.

Mayoral candidates the Las Vegas Review-Journal spoke to shared their thoughts about the Badlands case, and what approach they would take.

Councilwoman Victoria Seaman

The lone dissenting voice on the city council pushing for a settlement, at least publicly, Councilwoman Victoria Seaman noted that the legal dispute — which she has consistently opposed — began before she was sworn in.

“Once elected, I didn’t simply advocate for a settlement,” she wrote in a statement, “I worked tirelessly to bring both sides together to find a solution that protected Las Vegas’ taxpayers.”

She noted that the city has spent millions on outside attorneys and extended the legal fight, a process she likened to “(kicking) the can down the road.”

“I refused to vote for more appeals and money for outside attorneys who had nothing to lose by continuing the lawsuit, stating we were right,” Seaman wrote.

“Because it’s an election year, Monday-morning quarterbacks are saying precisely what I have been saying all along,” she added. “As Las Vegas’ next Mayor, I will settle the Badlands issue once and for all!”

Councilman Cedric Crear

Councilman Crear, who like Seaman was not in the council when the suits were filed, said he’s been a “staunch supporter” for the neighborhood residents’ rights.

“Land use is not promised for any developer,” he told the Review-Journal. “If that was the case, you would have a strip club in every corner, potentially,” he added.

He echoed the city’s claim that it has made “good faith” attempts to find a resolution, and noted that Nevada cities had supported Las Vegas with a court amicus.

“They know that if a developer doesn’t get what they want,” Crear said, “then all they have to do is sue. It’s easy to sue.”

While he would support the suits going through the Nevada Supreme Court, “we’ll continue to try to negotiate and continue to fight for the neighbors.”

Former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley

Berkley, a veteran congresswoman, said the dispute has gone on “too long” and that the lawsuits “threaten to financially strain our city.”

“As Mayor, I will take immediate action to find a fair and reasonable solution that protects the interests of Las Vegas taxpayers,” Berkley wrote in a statement. “We cannot allow this dispute to drag on any longer, draining valuable resources that could be better spent improving our community.”

She added: It’s time to put an end to the costly finger-pointing and find a path forward that works for everyone involved.”

With decisive leadership and a commitment to resolving this issue, we can move Las Vegas forward. The Badlands issue has gone on long enough. It’s time to bring this matter to a close for the benefit of the people of Las Vegas.”

Kara Jenkins

Kara Jenkins, who has served Nevada for a decade under governors Brian Sandoval, Steve Sisolak and Joe Lombardo, is the administrator for the Nevada Equal Rights Commission.

The Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate said she would push for a settlement.

“This shouldn’t have gone this far,” she said. “The tragedy (is) that now taxpayer money is being used to settle this when we really need the money ourselves or the money can be used to help our residents.”

She challenged the two city council members running for mayor.

“What are you going to do to push for a fast, efficient settlement, and to ensure to our public — and me as a constituent — that you’re not going to waste my tax dollars,” she said. “I can tell you that as mayor, I won’t.”

Tera Anderson

Tera Anderson, a businesswoman with experience in land and economic development, described the city’s actions as the “perfect example of government weaponizing taxpayer money to fight a private fight.”

She added: “Our existing council, who’s been engulfed with this for the last eight years, do not understand private property rights, do not understand land use and land development.”

Anderson said the city could’ve mediated between discontented residents and the developer to ensure a “win-win” outcome.

“The city should’ve been a facilitator of creating something that was a shared benefit for that whole area,” she said.

“Instead, they used taxpayer dollars, and now they have compounded this problem that can endanger the city of insolvency,” Anderson said.

Donna Miller

Donna Miller agreed with Anderson, acknowledging that she’s not privy to all the details.

“Effective communication and early mediation would’ve been the best way to resolve that,” said the veteran nurse and medical flight company founder.

Miller said the city should’ve addressed the needs of the developer and residents.

Miller would advocate for a settlement.

“They just need to go back to the table and really find a solution,” she said. “There has to be some compromises that they can come up with to stop losing all this money.”

Dock Walls

Businessman William “Dock” Walls, who has local government experience in Chicago, said he would vote to settle the lawsuits to minimize the financial losses.

“I would resolve that immediately in favor of the owner of that property,” he said. “It was properly zoned, he properly applied for it, and to forestall that because some neighbors had a problem with it was a travesty and a shame.”

Walls said that homeowners buy property with the knowledge that development around it can occur.

Continuing the litigation, he said, sends negative signals to other would-be developers.

Deb Peck

The city of Las Vegas’ legal losses in the Badlands case inspired local businesswoman Deb Peck to throw her hat in the race.

“It’s very, very upsetting,” said Peck, adding that the tax dollars “can go to so many other things.”

Peck said the city has to be “extra careful” how it spends.

“We have a fiscal responsibility to the citizens of Las Vegas and not a blank check,” she said.

Lynn Baird

Like the other outsider candidates, Lynn Baird said he has limited information on the Badlands case.

“I feel like not everything is on the table,” said the retired civil servant who spent three decades with Nevada’s employment division. “I don’t know that but I would love to learn more.”

He said city officials need to weigh the needs of the residents and the developer and “how can we resolve this in the very most equitable way possible.”

Baird said he does know that he doesn’t want to put taxpayers in a precarious situation, adding that “I gotta believe that there’s a better way.”

“With what I know now,” he said, “I would say let’s settle; let’s get on with this.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com.

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