Archives » July 19th, 2003

July 19, 2003

Fussin’ and a’ Feudin’

Don’t you love it when counties fight with each other, and the whole thing degrades into a childish shouting match? I know that’s just peaches in my book.

Here’s the story. Carson City and Douglas County have been friendly neighbors for years. Douglas is basically little more than a suburb for Carson. Many many people (like me) live in Douglas and work in Carson. But Douglas County has a couple of good sized towns of its own, and it has the Lake Tahoe casinos. Another thing it has is ownership of the hills right outside of Carson City. For the longest time, this was no problem. Development butts right up to the hills, and the county line is right at the base of them. The hills were filled with sagebrush, and everybody was happy.

And then came the day when Target came a-knockin’, scouting for locations for a new Carson City store. They looked around in town itself, but didn’t like anything they saw. So they asked, “what about that hill outside of town?” Carson City hemmed and hawed a little bit, and let it slip that the hillside was actually in the next county over. Target said, “Fabulous!” and drove over to Douglas County, making a deal with the county commissioners. Before you knew it, there was not only a Target but also a Home Depot on top of the hill, funneling the tax dollars south instead of north. Carson City fumed in its own juices.

Not long after, Wal*Mart decided they wanted to update their ten-year-old store, turning it into a Wal*Mart Super Center. There was one little problem. The current Wal*Mart was located inside the “non-compete” zone that Raley’s supermarket had negotiated twenty years before. Under the contract with the city, no other supermarkets were to be built within the zone. So Wal*Mart couldn’t expand; they had to build a new store instead. Somewhere along the way, Wal*Mart heard about the sweet deal Target had gotten, and started talking to Douglas County. Carson City became frantic now. Wal*Mart was a major sales tax generator, they couldn’t afford to lose it. So they brainstormed and tried to think of ways to keep the megalith within the city limits. One plan was to tear down a popular park and fairgrounds and give the land to Wal*Mart. The citizenry rose up against that idea pretty firmly. Another was to give Wal*Mart land out Highway 50. But Wal*Mart had studied the traffic patterns. They knew Hwy 50 was dead compared to the main road through town. And Carson just didn’t have anything to offer along that corridor. So the new Wal*Mart Super Center was built about a hundred yards on the other side of the county line, another win for Douglas.

After this happened, other developers became interested in Douglas County. And Douglas knew it had stumbled across a good thing, so it welcomed them with open arms. There was still plenty of sagebrush in those hills, plenty of opportunities to draw major national chains, and their tax dollars, to the area. Soon ground broke on a massive shopping center, containing a Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, PetCo, CostPlus, and, if rumors are to be believed, In-N-Out Burger. Douglas was riding a good wave, and Carson City was getting more and more pissed off.

Then came the breaking point. Douglas County eyed 144 acres of sagebrush across the street from Wal*Mart, and decided to actively go out courting buyers. They arranged a public auction for the land. Carson City finally lost it, blew a fuse, and threatened to sue to stop the auction. Their reasoning was that Douglas County was meeting with developers to build an auto mall on the property, and all the car dealerships would move out of town, taking the city’s last major source of sales tax with them (especially since the Carson City Kmart was slated to be closed). This could not be tolerated. Douglas County backed down momentarily, but later decided to press on with the auction. Carson City blustered, Douglas called their bluff, and it all came crashing down yesterday when Carson City actually filed a federal lawsuit. A lawsuit against a neighboring county. To stop them from selling their land. W? T? F? Can they even do that?

This article outlines some of the trumped-up charges Carson City had to invent to get this lawsuit rolling, including violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. Carson City is upset because it has run out of developable land, and it’s jealous that Douglas still has so much room to grow, and is therefore getting all the new development. That’s all this is about. The Douglas County commissioners are properly upset. They’re calling it a “war”. They’re publicly resigning from boards in protest. In one of the more childish moves, one of them threatened to block the sale of land needed for Carson’s new freeway. Both sides are now at the point of acting irrationally, and once that point has been reached, there’s nothing but trouble ahead. I think we’ve lost whatever bit of civility used to exist between the two entities, and us regular Joes are caught in the middle.

It’s all so ridiculous. And all I wanted was an In-N-Out Burger!