Water and the west side

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By Optic Editorial Board

Let’s talk about some harsh realities. The first is about water, or the lack thereof. The second relates to the west side of town.

These appear to be central to the prevailing arguments against the proposed gateway project. The idea is to create easy-to-follow, welcoming signage and landscaping from Interstate 25 into town, directing visitors and tourists to historic and retail areas such as that which exists along Bridge Street and the Plaza. The proposal appears to have strong support, though a handful of others have expressed opposition. They say the city needs to invest its money into solving our water problem and in addressing the years-long neglect in West Las Vegas.

First, let’s admit that the water situation isn’t going to be solved anytime soon. As long as we get 90 percent of our city water from the Gallinas River, Mother Nature controls the situation. The only long-term solution is to wean ourselves off the river and find another source. Stopping the leaks would help tremendously, but we’ll still be depending on the river. And drilling down for more groundwater just isn’t going to cut it. What is required is a long-term plan that includes riverwater, groundwater, and other sources not yet tapped in to.

Second, let’s recognize that the city must multi-task. While water is critical to our future, it isn’t all we must address. We also need a healthy tax base to pay for the water and plug the leaks, and that means we need successful retailers in town. The gateway project could bring in added tourism dollars, which in turn boosts the gross receipts tax — the lifeblood of our city government operations.

And finally, let’s agree that the west side has been neglected when it comes to basic services like street improvements and sidewalk construction, but let’s also recognize that’s only part of the picture. All the infrastructure improvements in the world aren’t going to revitalize West Las Vegas like an economic investment  would. If retail sales increase along Bridge Street and the Plaza, it will be good for the school district, create jobs and boost the city’s ability to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said last week that he’d love to entice another grocery store to the west side of town, but here’s another harsh reality: it isn’t likely. Such a store won’t survive there, at least not as things stand right now. So instead, the city needs to focus on West’s strengths — and that’s the idea behind a “gateway” leading visitors to the independent businesses that make up Old Town.

Las Vegas is rich in history and culture, and the Plaza is at the heart of it all. Building on that adds to our continuing efforts to get more water, and it could go a long way toward making the west side more viable economically. The city needs to be tackling it all at once.