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Union turns in petitions

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a showdown.

Culinary Local 226 on Thursday turned in more than 14,000 petition signatures challenging a new Las Vegas city hall and the city’s redevelopment plan, more than three times the 4,500 signatures needed.

Mayor Oscar Goodman suggested the ballot measures for the June election, even if voter-approved, might not stop the new city hall plans. He contends the city effectively has a contract with the would-be developers, Forest City and LiveWork Las Vegas.

Goodman promised legal and other challenges to measures spearheaded by the union.

“There’s no question about it,” Goodman said. “We’re not going to allow this to go unchallenged, that’s for darn sure. The public should know, no matter what happens with the referendum, we’re going to go ahead with these projects.”

The union gathered far more signatures than needed to put the measures on the June city election ballot. The Las Vegas city clerk’s office is verifying them.

Goodman and the union have been slugging it out over the new city hall idea for a while now, with the union calling the idea — and other city-assisted redevelopment projects — wasteful and ineffective. The mayor blasts union leaders for standing in the way of something he says will bring jobs and progress.

With the union expected to reach its signature targets, Goodman has promised to “fight this tooth and nail.”

He added an interesting wrinkle Thursday by saying the proposed city hall might not be affected. That’s because a project in which the city and a developer work together involves a contract that each side is obligated to keep, and there’s language in the union’s measure that protects existing contracts — and one exists for the city hall proposal, Goodman said.

“As far as I’m concerned, there is definitely a contract. It may not be specifically in writing, but these people are proceeding as though there is a contractual agreement with the city. Nobody can interfere with existing contracts.”

The only contract that exists is “in his mind,” countered Chris Bohner, the union’s research director.

“It still has to go before the debt management commission. It still has to be approved by the city. They’re a long way from approving the contract for the city hall, and that’s what the record shows.”

The Las Vegas City Council approved a site plan for the project Wednesday and also scheduled a public hearing on financing for a new city hall at the Feb. 18 regular meeting.

Goodman also brought up a list of projects the union has challenged, including renovations of the Lady Luck, the failed REI Neon arena development and now the new city hall. All connect to possible new casinos, and that’s the union’s real agenda, he said — putting City Council pressure on developers to deal with unions.

“We’d be extorting them,” Goodman said. “We’d be leaning on the developer and saying, ‘Get in bed with the Culinary so we can get this project done.’ I’m not going to do that.”

Bohner denied the mayor’s contention. He said union members are also taxpayers who need city services and fire and police protection and that taking on a large project like a city hall could imperil city finances.

The union also wants changes to how the city’s economic development plan works — for instance, by requiring employers to meet certain standards for pay and benefits.

“We’ve consistently argued that the jobs the city is subsidizing should be good, well-paying, middle-class jobs,” Bohner said. “They shouldn’t be dead-end jobs. We advocate for that … for all the folks who work downtown.

“Clearly they have no interest in reforming the Redevelopment Agency. It’s really going to come down to the voters to do so.”

The Redevelopment Agency is an offshoot of city government created under state law. It defines an area and finances incentives for development within those boundaries. New revenue from that growth is channeled to more projects.

One of the union’s ballot measures would require voter approval of “lease-purchase” construction projects, which is the method proposed for financing the new city hall.

The other measure would repeal the redevelopment plan and mandate voter approval of new redevelopment projects.

Las Vegas is proposing a 303,000-square-foot, seven-story municipal building at First Street and Clark Avenue. It would anchor an office complex proposed by the developer, who also has agreed to build a hotel-casino in Union Park once the city hall is done.

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

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