Watch Desert Wars September 25, 2006 at 8 pm on KUED Channel 7
Interviewer: What's the biggest misconception about growth in Las Vegas?
Margo Wheeler: Growth in Las Vegas is a conscious-level decision by the elected officials not only in the city of Las Vegas but really in all of Southern Nevada. In the creation of cities, the purpose of doing so is to have local control and in these cities the local elected officials have chosen to champion growth and that is something that we wish to see happen, we wish to have continuing and we wish to do so in a rational, logical way that we provide the infrastructure necessary to go forward with the growth we want and expect.
Interviewer: How do you answer the critics who look at Las Vegas as a sprawl?
Margo Wheeler: Sprawl is certainly an issue that many communities deal with and it's the utilization of land. Land is a commodity whose utilization must be decided by again the elected officials within the local jurisdiction whether it be the city or the county. Local control is what allows these elected officials to decide whether growth will occur and where it does occur. In the Las Vegas Valley we are constricted by the valley itself. There are limitations of federal land, mountains and rivers eventually to the south, and our notion is to do the best utilization of growth within the valley and to allow growth to continue but to do so in a fashion that is well addressed by the infrastructure.
Interviewer: What is your plan for future growth? What do you see for the next ten to twenty years?
Margo Wheeler: In the Las Vegas Valley we do see a continuation of the growth, maybe not as fast as it has been, but within the area of Southern Nevada to the restrictions of red rock to the west and the Indian reservation to the north, and again the mountains to the east, we believe that filling in this valley, doing it at an appropriate density and creating a major metropolitan area, one of the largest and most important in the country, is our goal and generally we are unapologetic about that.
Interviewer: Obviously this area is booming in terms of population growth. How do you plan for that kind of growth?
Margo Wheeler: Planning for growth is something that must be coordinating between all of the public entities—the cities and the counties and also the school district, it's the water district, it's the power companies. All of those agencies must cooperate and work together. Here in Nevada we have the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition. We meet monthly, both at the planning director level or city managers or appointed elected officials. We met just yesterday, and all of those agencies are involved—the cities, the county, the school district, Nevada Power, the RTC (our transportation commission). We all meet together and plan in a consolidated fashion so when there is growth in one area, not only are the cities aware of it but so are the utilities in the school district that serve the population that is here and is growing.
Interviewer: Is there land for this future growth? Where will this land come from and how will it be acquired?
Margo Wheeler: The State of Nevada is still held, primarily by the Federal Government and I believe it's still somewhere around 80% of the land is still held by the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. The local agencies nominate land that is located approximate to existing development and the developers are interested in, and then it is auctioned off as is reported in the press, those developers bid on the land to develop that land. The plan for that land is done before that auction occurs so that in the case of the city where I work, about which I can speak, we already said what type of development and how we wanted to develop, the protection of the ororios(?), where there street system and transportation system would be, and we had that plan in place prior to that land being made available for auction to private developers.
Interviewer: What is the future of the city in terms of growth? What do you think is going to happen?
Margo Wheeler: I like to think that as a city and region that matures, which we are—we are not at the point of maturation, we will continue to have density come into the core. We have 20,000 units to be developed in the downtown area. To bring density into the downtown is crucial in a maturing area and that's something that we're terribly excited about. We want to see a population growth here that is as dense as is necessary to support a public transportation system. We want to provide a variety housing types whether it's inner city urban or the wonderful suburban areas we have in the mountain areas where we still have protected areas of equestrian trails and horse parks that are still part of our planning area. We want to provide housing for all types of different markets and we're still affordable compared with many other urban areas where the blue-collar workers can still buy a single family home generally in most neighborhoods that they want to live in. I'm from California and I know that certainly can't be done there and that's what we want to create here.
Interviewer: Is this growth overwhelming the lifestyle, in your opinion, as to why people move here? Do they move here for this type of lifestyle and is the growth inhibiting that at all?
Margo Wheeler: I don't believe so. I think newcomers to this area still can appreciate the difference from the areas that they're from. Our density is still so much less so far as the traffic and commute times. You can get from one end of this valley to the other in a matter of minutes. There are neighborhoods, wonderful old neighborhoods a mile from downtown, which you won't find in a lot of older cities. We are at the stage of maturation now but we have not had to go through the decay that often occurs where you have a downtown or the periphery to downtown that has substantially declined and has to be rebuilt, painstakenly over decades. We haven't had that decline so we have the opportunity to become more dense, more mature and do so with existing wonderful neighborhoods in the same area.