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Politics and Policy

Washoe County commissioner candidates talk transportation and homelessness at This Is Reno forum

Connie Wray is standing at a podium on the left side of a stage. The six candidates are seated in a half-circle next to her. Behind them is a large screen that reads, “This Is Reno.”
Lucia Starbuck
/
KUNR Public Radio
Moderator Connie Wray (left) and Washoe County commissioner candidates for various districts, including Kyle Isacksen, Edwin Lyngar, Mike Clark, Hawah Ahmad, Wendy Leonard and Mariluz Garcia, participate in This Is Reno’s forum in Reno, Nev., on May 12.

Some candidates for Washoe County commissioner seats say they want to see infrastructure catch up to the region’s growth and have different proposals to address homelessness. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck and Gustavo Sagrero discuss the ideas they shared at a recent forum held by This Is Reno.

Gustavo Sagrero: Let’s chat about the open races and who was at the forum.

Lucia Starbuck: There are three commission seats up for grabs. Let’s start with District 5. District 5 represents the largest geographic region, including Somersett, North Valleys and Cold Springs. There are three Republicans running against each other in the primary, including incumbent Jeanne Herman [and Richard “Mo” Molezzo], who did not attend the forum.

Wendy Leonard was the only Republican in this race there. She’s worked for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office for 15 years and retired as a lieutenant. She’s currently a member of the North Valleys Citizen Advisory Board.

There’s also one non-partisan candidate [Krysta Jackson], and one Democratic candidate, Edwin Lyngar, and he was there. Lyngar was the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Wildlife Division of Law Enforcement for 15 years. He’s now an English teacher at TMCC.

Sagrero: At the forum, most of the candidates spoke about the growth the county has experienced and the strain that’s put on emergency services, the environment and transportation. Many candidates were interested in seeing a regional railway system.

Candidate Edwin Lyngar hinted at taxation to pay for the infrastructure, but the board of county commissioners can’t impose or increase a tax unless authorized by a specific statute according to Nevada law.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDWIN LYNGAR FROM THE FORUM): When it comes to rail, everybody always asks, “Well, how is this going to pay for itself?” Infrastructure for the good of our community does not pay for itself. I don’t have a 10-point tax proposal right now, but I will say that it is time for our city to be a city.

Sagrero: Instead of looking at possible taxes, Wendy Leonard wants to look at federal grant funding.

(SOUNDBITE OF WENDY LEONARD FROM THE FORUM): The county needs to very rapidly put in place a grants team that is focused on grants for infrastructure. We cannot continue taxing our public for things that we already can’t afford to live. Who can afford the gas prices and the house prices the way they are?

Sagrero: The Bipartisan Infrastructure law signed in 2021 included more than $100 billion in total for expanding and creating freight and intercity passenger railway programs.

Starbuck: I’m glad we’re talking about transportation. Some of the candidates even joked about how some of the roads in the county become parking lots.

They also had the opportunity to talk about how they would handle the county’s homeless shelter, where nearly 600 people sleep each night. Washoe County has spent $29 million in federal COVID funding on the Nevada CARES Campus. It opened a year ago, and short staffing has led to safety concerns.

The Democratic candidates in District 3 all have different ideas on how to address homelessness, and there’s one Republican [Denise Myer] who will automatically be on the general election ballot. District 3 represents Sun Valley down to Wooster [High School] and then west to the corner of Keystone and McCarran.

One of the Democrats, Hawah Ahmad, worked for the City of Reno for a year, coordinating transportation to a free lunch program for children experiencing homelessness and living in motels. She’s currently a lobbyist for the Clark County Education Association. She wants to see more collaboration with community organizations at the shelter.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAWAH AHMAD FROM THE FORUM): We have to kind of go back to the drawing board a little bit, and the way that we communicate with other nonprofits that are currently in the sphere and working in our community on these issues, and with those mutual aid groups, and our young people that are so passionate about these issues.

Sagrero: Candidate Mariluz Garcia would like to see preventative mental health care to help people avoid homelessness in the first place. She’s worked as a school counselor with the Washoe County School District. Now she runs a program at UNR that helps low-income and first-generation students graduate high school.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARILUZ GARCIA FROM THE FORUM): When you’re looking at or talking about trauma, we’re talking about early childhood trauma. And as Washoe County commissioners, there’s a lot of things that we can do – looking at child services, looking at our foster care system, looking at our adult services – things that we can put into place now.

Sagrero: Candidate Kyle Isacksen suggested partitioning the walls in the Nevada Cares Campus and wants to see more dorm-style living like at the Village on Sage Street. The rent there is $400 a month.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLE ISACKSEN FROM THE FORUM): I think we need to distribute these services in these places around our community in different areas. We all need to kind of shoulder this burden; it shouldn't all be in one spot.

Sagrero: A little more about Isacksen: He started a nonprofit with his wife called Be The Change nearly 11 years ago. It’s a project incubator which started the Reno Garlic Festival and Down to Earth Gardens & Compost.

Starbuck: Lastly, you have District 2, which represents South Reno to Washoe Valley. Republican incumbent Bob Lucey did not attend the forum. Republican Michael “Mike” Clark, who has been the Washoe County Assessor for seven years, was the only one from this race there. There’s also a Democrat [Keith Lockard] and Libertarian candidate [David Michael Banuelos]. Clark went in a bit of a different direction to address homelessness. He wants to take a census of people experiencing homelessness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE CLARK FROM THE FORUM): I can’t get a straight answer from anybody I talked to about how many homeless people do we have. Can we do a census? And then we can do an evaluation on each of their needs.

Starbuck: Right now, there’s the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time count, which found there were about 1,600 people experiencing homelessness in Washoe County, but advocates say that count is likely higher, and the process was affected by the pandemic.

Sagrero: I also want to note this forum was civil, friendly and pretty energetic. As a reminder, early voting is taking place now through June 10.

Learn more about the candidates in This Is Reno’s reporting here.

Candidate audio provided by KWNK Community Radio.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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