Editorial: City should be very wary

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By The Staff

The Las Vegas City Council should think long and hard before it makes a decision on what to do with its vacant land along Mills Avenue, where the city demolished a public housing development a couple of years ago.

Originally, the city has planned to have homes built there for a homeownership program for low-income people. Then, in 2005, the council entered a public-private partnership with Farmington-based JL Gray for tax-credit housing for a portion of the vacant land.

That arrangement fell through. And the city hasn’t provided a clear explanation why.

As it turned out, JL Gray had Albuquerque architectural firm Dekker-Perich-Sabtini produce the designs for the housing, called the Santa Fe Trail Apartments. Dekker spent $250,000 doing just that, but it never got paid.

Dekker has since hooked up with Santa Fe businessman Frank Koppler, who spoke before the council last week. Koppler urged the council to issue a request for proposals to resurrect the tax-credit housing project. He said the city should be speedy, so it can get federal stimulus funds, noting that the apartment project is shovel-ready.

But Housing Director Robert Pacheco said the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, which funds the local housing authority, asked that the city not undertake any projects on the vacant land until the authority escapes its troubled status. And that could be another 10 months.

Koppler responded that a request for proposals would be fine because the construction project wouldn’t begin until after the authority was no longer considered troubled.

Before making any decision, the City Council should get advice from HUD on how to approach this issue.

If the city does issue a request for proposals, it’s likely that Koppler would get the job because he has access to the plans from a few years ago. He’s got a running head start.

Another factor in this situation makes us wary about any quick decisions: Koppler’s partner is state Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, who represents western San Miguel County. Griego may have the purest of intentions, but his involvement may change public perceptions about any possible deal.

Indeed, Koppler and Griego have already held a behind-the-scenes meeting with Mayor Tony Marquez and other city officials.

This makes for an awkward situation for the mayor and City Council — most of whom work for the state government. Marquez is at the state Department of Corrections, Councilman Andrew Feldman at Luna Community College and Councilman Morris Madrid at the state hospital. And Diane Moore works for a nonprofit organization with ties to the state.

Like Griego, all of these men may have the best interest of the community at heart. But state legislators have their share of power, especially in a town full of state jobs. So we must be vigilant to prevent them from gaining any type of unfair advantage. At the very least, Feldman, Madrid, Marquez and Moore will be put into an uncomfortable position if a firm with Griego as a partner approaches the city.

Let us be clear: Griego shouldn’t get any special treatment — none whatsoever. And the council shouldn’t be pressured into a decision it doesn’t want to make, especially if it contradicts the wishes of HUD.