KUNR 2020 Voter Guide: Reno City Council Ward 1

Oct 16, 2020

In what might be the tightest city council race in Reno, two-term incumbent Jenny Brekhus is facing a challenge by real estate agent J.D. Drakulich. Brekhus, who is often at odds with the rest of the council, says she places constituents above special interests and makes decisions based on the good of the ward. Drakulich, whose family has a long history in Reno, is running for office for the first time. He says he would be a better representative for Ward 1 on issues like homelessness.

Reno’s Ward 1 encompasses much of central Reno, including Midtown and the Old Southwest neighborhoods. Municipal races in Nevada are non-partisan.

For information on other races, visit our KUNR 2020 Voter Guide home page.

As a note: All responses in KUNR's 2020 Voter Guide have been submitted by the candidates. KUNR has not changed the answers other than to provide fact-checking as needed, indicated in the text with italics and parentheses.

Credit KUNR
Credit Courtesy of Jenny Brekhus

Name: Jenny Brekhus
Occupation: I presently work full-time as a Reno City Council Member.  I am a city planner by occupation.

Why are you running for office?

To provide continued informed and independent leadership at city hall and to continue to provide responsive constituent services to Ward 1 residents.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the city of Reno?

Providing services and maintaining infrastructure to an increasing population within an expanding regional footprint, without deterioration of the quality of life Reno residents enjoy within their established neighborhoods.  

How would you rate the city’s response to the pandemic thus far?

I would rate the city’s response satisfactory.  Because the pandemic involved emergency declarations from all levels of government including federal, state, county and city, it is difficult to rate the city in isolation because the response was across government levels.  With respect to the city, the pandemic began at a time that the manager who runs city government was departing, and that leadership vacuum did not put the city on the best footing to respond to the emergency particularly after city hall was breached on May 31.  While the Mayor utilized her emergency powers in a timely manner, her emergency declarations could have been more specific as related to the duration and the curfews she enacted.  The city has done a strong job in designing programs to distribute the federal relief funds out into the community that is in need.  

As a City Councilmember, what would be your top three priorities?

1) Addressing the city’s structural fiscal deficiency by more efficiently utilizing existing regional revenues to address contemporary issues.   

2) Managing growth so that it does not involve a deterioration of services and infrastructure in older neighborhood as new areas generate competing demands for those resources.

3) In addition to addressing the negative externalities of homeless encampments upon Ward 1 neighborhoods, my priority is that long term solutions and resources be directed to solve this issue.  This must be approached by advocating and demanding that other better resourced levels of government particularly Washoe County, but also the state and federal governments bring to bear, a similar level of focus to the issue.

It’s no secret Reno has issues with housing insecurity. What steps should the city take to address homelessness?

As the Reno Master Plan determined, the most affordable housing to be built, will be constructed on already existing developed land that is repurposed to other housing uses.  The city needs to spur private investment to these locations by investing public resources into these locations.  The city also needs not have these areas with existing infrastructure and services, continue to bear costs for new growth areas.  I’ve advocated several reforms to infrastructure financing to achieve this, including creation of a stormwater utility that is now under design. But more must be done including transportation road impact fee reform and revised sewer fees and rates.  

Prior to COVID, I proposed and the City Council established, a tenants’ advisory board to provide recommendations to the City Council on the rental housing sector.  The board only met a few times before COVID.  As we will are in a new housing dynamic with COVID and going forward, increased vulnerabilities and new housing models must be examined.  I am advocating that this board reconvene in the first quarter of 2021.    

In that same vein, housing costs in Northern Nevada continue to climb — pricing many families out of the area. What should the city council do to increase the supply of affordable housing in Reno?

In addition to that above as related to the unsubsidized market housing sector, the city must reexamine economic development policies.  As the state of Nevada continues to give economic development incentives, consideration should be given that job creators that receive those benefits fund subsidized housing units.  The same applies to the city.  I opposed every application of the Mayor’s 1000 Homes in 100 Days Program that did not involve a requirement that the project provide restricted subsidized units.  In Nevada’s low tax, low services environment, public resources cannot continue to be given away under a trickle-down theory.  Specific performance requirements of public benefit must be guaranteed.

Like nearly every municipality, Reno’s financial situation amid the pandemic is precarious, at best. Where would you look to balance the city’s budget if cuts are needed in the future?

Regional revenues including those related to room tax that go the Reno Sparks Convention Center to market the area, RTC Washoe gas tax that goes to new road building rather than maintenance, and even budget funds within in the city budget that have lockboxes, like the fees paid for construction, must be reexamined to support essential services like public safety and parks.  Washoe County must exercise the General Services Tax at its discretion to address homeless issues.  There are interests that do not want to see current budgetary allocations repurposed because they benefit from current distributions.  There must be a political will in times of austerity and new realities to examine the status quo of revenue distributions.  

Since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, activists around the country have demanded police reform. That includes some calls to dramatically shift money away from police departments toward social services. Do you support such reforms?

I support shifting jobs away from the Reno Police Department particularly ones related to addressing the needs of vulnerable persons who are not a threat to others.  These are most notably responding to calls for services related to  homeless encampments and mental health distress.  This should be the domain of Washoe County that has refused to generate new resources to implement expanded services.  This shift would allow the Reno Police Department to provide more critical services that are not sufficiently being addressed now like neighborhood patrols, traffic safety enforcement and follow up detective work on reported crimes.  Coverage in the growing city is geographic based and is spread too thin.  This also comes with negative work environments for police officers who have more calls than they can reasonably be expected to respond to in a shift.  When anyone has an overwork load, they don’t peform as well as could be.

Learn more about Jenny Brekhus at jennybrekhus.com.

Credit KUNR
Credit Committee to Elect J.D. Drakulich for City Council Ward 1

Name: J.D. Drakulich
Occupation: Residential Realtor

Why are you running for office?

My catalyst for running is to solve the homeless issue. I am currently the Board President for the Eddy House and in my 4 years with the organization I have seen how bad the homeless problem is in our community and how poorly we are doing in solving the problem. I also believe my current representative on the council has become too combative with her colleagues and is unwilling to collaborate with our elected officials and stakeholders to solve many of our problems. This issue has rendered her ineffective as a leader which directly impacts not only my ward but the city. I will be an independent voice as I have no allegiance to anyone on the council but I understand I must work with them to solve our many issues at hand.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the city of Reno?

The budget is in dire straights and our homeless issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

How would you rate the city’s response to the pandemic thus far?

I believe our community performed admirably during the initial shutdown, our businesses have proved to be following safety guidelines since the reopening, our frontline workers were exceptional and I trust that we can safely reopen when the restrictions are lifted.

As a City Councilmember, what would be your top three priorities?

Homelessness, public safety and safely reopening all of our businesses.

It’s no secret Reno has issues with housing insecurity. What steps should the city take to address homelessness?

I believe strongly in prevention and housing, with a focus on housing options for our residents that live along our river and in our public areas. WCSD has identified up to 3,000 kids K-12 that are categorically homeless and our youth homeless population of ages 18-24 has steadily increased. The city and community must enhance and enable our local non-profits that specialize in homeless prevention programs that work with this age group and adults. We must also strategize on bringing diverse housing segments to the community, which include transitional and permanent supportive housing.

In that same vein, housing costs in Northern Nevada continue to climb — pricing many families out of the area. What should the city council do to increase the supply of affordable housing in Reno?

In my first days of office I will propose that the city rehire a grant writer, which was a position that was lost from the recession. This grant writer will focus on non-local private and federal funding for affordable housing. I will also support policy that aims at funding the General Housing Fund. We must also collaborate with our builder/developers to provide housing in the $250-325k range.

Like nearly every municipality, Reno’s financial situation amid the pandemic is precarious, at best. Where would you look to balance the city’s budget if cuts are needed in the future?

I prefer pay cuts over layoffs so that we don't lose our employees while we recover economically. I also prefer this strategy with our unions but that will require negotiations.

Since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, activists around the country have demanded police reform. That includes some calls to dramatically shift money away from police departments toward social services. Do you support such reforms?

I do support reform in how our local law enforcement protects and engages with our citizens but I do not support defunding them. Our police have been underfunded ever since the recession and my neighbors have expressed concern that our police force hasn't been growing alongside our region's increasing population. I do believe that we can bring down the scope of work of our officers and limit their calls to areas where they are not needed, which would limit the amount of resources used and police needed, therefore positively affecting the overall budget. I also believe we should increase their training in de-escalation techniques and increase their resources and tools that enhance their ability to safely protect our community. This is an important conversation with our citizens but we must not turn our backs on our officers during the process.

Learn more about J.D. Drakulich at drakulichforreno.com.

For information on other races, visit our KUNR 2020 Voter Guide home page.