Wednesday, April 4, 2012 | 3:45 p.m.
Bob Beers didn’t waste any time getting his feet wet in Las Vegas City Council politics on Wednesday. The new Ward 2 city councilman waded right into the racially charged F Street controversy.
Beers, who was sworn in Wednesday morning, voted against the city issuing up to $8.5 million in general obligation bonds to reopen F Street, which would reconnect West Las Vegas, a historic black neighborhood, to downtown.
Beers, a former Republican legislator known as a fiscal hawk, said he didn’t like the idea of tying up about $800,000 each year from the city’s general fund budget to retire the debt on the project.
"My concern is really, purely government management and is fiscal in nature,” Beers said. “This is going to be $800,000 cash flow per year for the next 10 years that the City Council will not be able to use to respond to capital emergencies."
However, the city council approved authorizing the sale of the bonds on a vote of 5-2, with Beers joined in opposition by fellow former legislator Bob Coffin, who represents Ward 3.
Today’s action follows the 2009 mandate by the Nevada Legislature that the street be reopened, with the city paying part of the costs through property taxes.
Lawmakers took that action at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who said residents in West Las Vegas weren’t sufficiently notified when the Las Vegas City Council voted in 2006 to close the street as part of the job to widen I-15 from the Spaghetti Bowl to Craig Road in North Las Vegas.
After F Street was closed, some accused the city of wanting to cut off West Las Vegas from the planned Symphony Park development.
"It's a shame they plopped down Interstate 15 right smack dab in the middle of this very significant historical neighborhood in the city's history," Beers said.
Beers said he was anxious to work with Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Y. Barlow, who represents the neighborhood, to find ways to recapture the history of that neighborhood.
"I think there are ways to do it, but I can't tie up the city's financial hands like this in good conscience," he said.
Coffin also said reopening F Street would be a mistake.
"I still can't figure out why we're going to do this, even though I know there is a state statute calling for us to do that," Coffin said. Coffin said he didn't know what forces were behind the effort, saying it could be landowners or planned property transactions.
"There are things mysterious to me," he said. "And yet it still has momentum."
Coffin said he has apologized for voting for the statute in the past because he didn't know "the real truth about what happened."
Coffin said his own research showed the city and the Nevada Department of Transportation had followed the rules and procedures for notifying affected residents from downtown to the Las Vegas Speedway.
"This is only one small part of that project," he said. He said lawmakers are forcing NDOT and the city to spend still an unknown amount of money — some have estimated the finished cost as high as $70 million — "on punching a hole in that freeway."
Coffin contends D and H streets still connect the neighborhood to the downtown under the freeway.
He said NDOT designers were "color blind" when they designed the road and had no idea it would be seen as a slight felt by the people who lived in that part of town.
"What we have is a mess on our hands," Coffin said.
He said the City Council will feel repercussions from the public about the decision once the project is complete.
Barlow, who voted for reopening the street, said he disagreed with Coffin's past label of the street as "a road to nowhere."
Barlow said the neighborhood had a meeting last week where about 100 residents came out to show support for the project and "keep NDOT's feet to the fire."
He said reopening F Street will provide motorists with an alternate way to get to Charleston Boulevard through the heart of Symphony Park.