That 'militant special interest group' would be the voters

Come November, I think Carson City supervisors will regret their decision to describe those of us who oppose their questionable scheme to sell the Fuji Park fairgrounds to developers as "a small, militant special interest group." The nucleus of this "small group" is the 3,400 registered voters -- more than 20 percent of the expected voter turnout on Nov. 5 -- who signed a petition to stop the Board of Supervisors from selling the fairgrounds and relocating the facility to the city dump near Mound House.

And while we're at it, perhaps the supervisors can tell us which "special interest" the fairgrounds sale opponents represent. One special interest that comes to mind is open space, which Carson City voters overwhelmingly endorsed in 1996 when they passed a Quality of Life ballot initiative designed "to fund the acquisition, development and maintenance of park, open space, trails and recreational facilities," like the fairgrounds.

So I think our elected representatives made a serious public relations error when they tacitly approved ballot language describing fairgrounds sale opponents as "a small, militant special interest group." By so doing, they have gratuitously insulted a significant portion of the electorate that voted them into office. I wonder if Donna Brazil (Al Gore's campaign manager) is their political consultant.

A recent Appeal editorial defined the word militant: "Fighting, engaged in war, serving as a soldier." "We've never seen anything in the (actions of) Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and Fairgrounds that struck us as the least bit militant," the editorial commented. In fact, the Concerned Citizens' campaign to block the fairgrounds sale has been a model exercise in grassroots democracy that demonstrates how citizens can petition their government for a redress of grievances as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. "Militant?" I don't think so.

But while the Citizens were attempting to engage in a fair fight, their elected officials turned around and appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court their own decision to put the fairgrounds question on the November ballot. Supervisors obviously hope that the state's highest court will deprive Carson City voters of their right to express themselves on the issue of how to manage public lands, including parks and fairgrounds. There's a parallel legal battle in Reno, where the City Council is attempting to block a vote on a controversial multi-million-dollar train trench project.

Actually, there will be two Fuji Park and fairgrounds measures on the November ballot -- a non-binding advisory opinion and an initiative that would retain the park and fairgrounds in their present south Carson location "in perpetuity." Personally, I like the mandatory language of the initiative petition because it will prohibit supervisors from obtaining a friendly legal opinion from the district attorney justifying a sale of the fairgrounds over objections from a majority of the voters.

My friend and tennis buddy, Bill Goni, who was chairman of the Ormsby County (Carson City) Commission when the fairgrounds were built as an integral part of the Fuji Park recreational complex in the mid-1960s, is strongly opposed to the fairgrounds sale.

"We built the fairgrounds with our own hands," he told me last week, referring to a group of volunteers who did most of the work themselves. "A sale of the fairgrounds would be a betrayal of everything we worked for." And so it would.

On the other hand, City Manager John Berkich has assured us that the fairgrounds will be replaced by "an upscale lifestyle center." Does that mean we'll have a Nordstrom's boutique sandwiched between trailer parks across from Costco? If so, I can hardly wait.

An upscale project would certainly be an improvement over the proliferation of "big box" stores just over the Douglas County line south of town, but I seriously doubt whether high-end retailers would locate in such a cluttered area. I want to rain on the big box parade by leaving Fuji Park and fairgrounds right where they are along the Clear Creek watershed. And just watch what the first heavy water runoff from the new "super" Wal-Mart does to Clear Creek. It won't be a pretty sight.

The main irony of the fairgrounds issue is that city supervisors agonized for months over an acceptable relocation site before deciding on Flint Drive in east Carson City adjacent to the city dump (or landfill, to use politically correct terminology). Supervisors approved the barren location even though it was the least-favored site studied by city staff. "I hate to go through a process like this and not get the best site," lamented Supervisor Richard Staub, who was the lone dissenter in a 4-1 vote. He added that he was only interested in relocation if it improves the fairgrounds, and this decision doesn't.

For their part, fairgrounds users are generally satisfied with the present facilities and site. "The users group's first choice has been, and still is, to stay at the present site," said group spokesman Jon Nowlin at last month's meeting. Most of the users want city officials to use the millions of dollars they'd spend on relocation to improve the Fuji fairgrounds, which seems like a reasonable and cost-effective proposal.

As for the specious argument that Carson City will go broke unless the fairgrounds are sold to developers, don't you believe it. In the words of those opposed to the sale, "The combination of mature shade trees, grass area, exhibit hall, fairgrounds, arenas and cool shaded waters of Clear Creek isn't available anywhere else in Carson City." So here's my ungrammatical message to the supervisors: If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Thank you very much and Happy Father's Day.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, has maintained his legal residence in Carson City since 1962.


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