Justices hear arguments from city, Culinary in city hall battle

Both sides agree that there’s something huge at stake in the court case pitting the Culinary union against the city of Las Vegas. They just don’t agree on what it is.

For the union, which wants to put two measures on the June 2 municipal election ballot, the case is about a vile threat against the citizens’ right to place initiatives and referenda before voters.

The city argued, meanwhile, that the union’s measure would rip the guts out of its effort to redevelop downtown and, at the same time, unleash a wave of brutal litigation over $80 million that’s already been committed.

Each side presented arguments to the Nevada Supreme Court today.

Justices did not indicate when they would rule, but there is an April 22 deadline to start printing absentee ballots.

Earlier this year, Culinary Local 226 submitted the required number of signatures for two proposed ballot measures. One would repeal the city’s existing redevelopment plan, which uses incentives to entice builders into blighted areas such as downtown. The other would require voter approval on “lease-purchase” financing of more than $2 million, which is the financing tool being considered to pay for a new city hall.

The City Council eventually voted not to put the measures on the ballot. Attorneys for the city argued that, if approved by voters, the measures would be an unconstitutional interference with contracts the city has entered into with developers.

If the redevelopment plan goes away, so does the funding source backing incentives being paid to developers inside the redevelopment area, City Attorney Brad Jerbic said.

There’s $80 million in financing out there, he said.

“You’re just going to have to go find it somewhere else,” Jerbic said. “We would absolutely be sued.

“It will literally be chaos.”

The chaos, retorted Culinary’s lawyer, comes from city officials blocking ballot measures that have enough signatures to be put before voters.

“Election officials must be relied upon to fulfill their duties,” said Paul More, alleging that the city waited until the last minute to turn down the measures so that the decision would be hard to challenge.

“I think the court will recognize that allowing this kind of last-minute challenge is unacceptable and would set a dangerous precedent,” he said after the hearing.

Several justices bluntly asked More how the city could continue to pay its redevelopment obligations if the redevelopment ordinance was repealed.

“Repeal of that measure would be prospective only,” he insisted. Existing redevelopment revenue would continue to flow “because of that obligation to repay.”

Chief Justice James Hardesty opened the questioning with a basic query: Why didn’t this case start in District Court?

“What are you doing here in the state Supreme Court?” he demanded of More. Hardesty noted that there probably are disputed facts in the case, and the Supreme Court is set up only to rule on matters of law.

Because of the looming election, More said, it was imperative that the case reach the high court as soon as possible.

“This certainly is an issue of statewide importance,” More said. “This is of central constitutional importance.”

Daniel Polsenberg, another of the city’s attorneys, said the chief justice’s concerns were valid.

“This case should’ve been filed in District Court,” he said. “I don’t think the court should be involved in this. This court doesn’t have the capabilities to make these kinds of findings.”


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

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