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Badlands dispute takes center stage at Las Vegas mayoral candidates forum

Updated May 23, 2024 - 3:33 pm

The legal and increasingly costly dispute between the city of Las Vegas and the would-be housing developer of the defunct Badlands golf course took center stage during a mayoral candidate forum attended by 10 candidates Wednesday.

As early as next month, Las Vegas voters can decide the outcome of the race to replace Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

The 2024 election marks the end of the quarter-century rule of Oscar and Carolyn Goodman at City Hall as current mayor Carolyn Goodman is term-limited.

If one of 15 candidates who filed to run for the position in March gets more than 50 percent of the vote on June 7, the race is over. Otherwise, the top two candidates will advance to a November general election runoff.

With the campaign season in full swing, mayoral hopefuls on Wednesday night pitched their vision for the city’s future to at the “Meet the Candidates” forum at the Good Samaritan Lutheran Church in the west valley.

Those in attendance in front of a crowd of about 100: former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley; Las Vegas City Councilmembers Victoria Seaman and Cedric Crear; Kara Jenkins; Tera Anderson; William “Dock” Walls; Donna Miller; Lynn Baird; Deb Peck and Irina Hansen.

On Wednesday, the candidates discussed their priorities and touted their leadership qualities, but the Badlands issue underlined the 90-minute event.

Badlands

Crear is the only candidate who’s come out in support of the city’s continuation of its legal defense as judgments against it have surpassed $237 million for three of the four lawsuits filed by EHB Cos.

The judgments are under appeal and deliberations for the fourth lawsuit, which encompasses a much-larger plot of land, are on standby.

“I’ve been standing up for you and the city hasn’t done anything wrong,” Crear said.

Crear noted that local governments across Nevada have signed an court amicus in support of Las Vegas, adding that the Badlands issue could have wider implications for future developments and involve would-be developers resorting to suing to get approvals.

However, the theme around his contenders’ responses was to “stop the bleeding” of taxpayer dollars by working out a settlement.

Berkley said she’s a resident of the upscale Queensridge neighborhood, which came out against a housing project around the nearby 250-acre golf course after EHB bought it in 2015.

“Cedric, you are not representing me,” said Berkley, adding that the dispute has gone on too long, and that she would bring the developer to the table for a fresh round of settlement negotiations.

Seaman — the lone dissenting voice at City Hall publicly advocating for a settlement — said she foresaw the city’s legal losses before she took office.

“I have been the only person saying, ‘enough is enough, we need to come to the table and settle,” Seaman said.

As mayor, Seaman said she would use her leadership leverage to wrangle the four out of seven votes in the council to resolve the lawsuits.

Businesswoman Irina Hansen took aim at Seaman, telling the crowd: “Why should we believe that Mrs. Seaman will be any more effective?”

Anderson, who has years of experience in land and economic development — including projects with the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas — said the city’s position was the “weaponizing of government with taxpayer dollars to advocate for public interests.”

Like Peck and Hansen, the candidate said the badlands issue “catalyzed” her to run for mayor. Anderson said the developer followed proper processes to build and that the legal losses could affect the city’s bond rating.

Jenkins, administrator for the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, characterized the issue as a “debacle.”

She said that developer Yohan Lowie is “going to get his money.”

Jenkins said she would “push forward for a fast settlement” and would explore ways so the funds don’t “come out of the pocket of taxpayers,” such as leveraging city bonds to pay for a settlement.

Miller, Walls, Peck and Hansen agreed with a settlement solution. Crear has echoed the city’s position that it’s still exploring a fair settlement.

Attorneys for EHB have previously shared the same sentiment with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The event was organized by the Buffalo Neighborhood Coalition. The trio of three-minute segments, in which candidates only took predetermined questions, didn’t allow for a back and forth, a rule someone in attendance lambasted.

Runoff threshold

A recent Emerson College Polling questionnaire that surveyed 500 likely voters had Berkley — who polled at 16 percent — slightly leading Las Vegas Councilwoman Victoria Seaman within the 4.3 percent margin of error. Crear garnered 7 percent support.

About 56 percent of the people polled by Emerson College, The Hill and KLAS-TV stated they were undecided, suggesting that the decision might advance to the runoff.

The sample pales in comparison to the 404,433 registered voters eligible to cast a ballot in the mayor’s race, according to Clark County figures.

Early voting begins Saturday.

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

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