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The Great Hangar Debate of 2023

For the past month, more or less, I have found myself returning more often than usual to the tome that most shaped and informed the way I look at government and politics.

No, it’s not any of the standards for an Old Dude who is substantially right of center in terms of size and scope of government (no such thing as a government that is too small, thank you very much) and a screaming leftie on most social issues. Actually that’s not quite accurate anymore. I’m more of what would have been a screaming leftie circa 1995. I don’t actually even recognize what the “social issue” Left has become in the past 20 years. Anyway…

So the book is not “On Liberty” or “Atlas Shrugged” or “The Art of War” although I have read all of those and each had an impact. It’s nothing by Buckley or Buchanan or Bill Kristol. I like my political writing with a big dose of humor so it’s not a total surprise that I am a huge fan of the late, great P.J. O’Rourke and that influential volume for me is the 1991 book, “Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire United States Government.”

I find myself going back over and over again to the last section of the book which is about what we have come to refer to as “special interest groups.”

We usually think of ‘special interests’ as being something out of a Thomas Nast cartoon—big men with cigars conspiring over a biscuit trust. But in fact, a special interest is any person or group that wants to be treated differently from the rest of us by the government. Every charity is a special interest. So is the League of Women Voters, the Episcopalian church, Consumer Reports magazine and anybody who threatens to write to his congressman.

So, here’s the deal. I was kind of afraid that I might have become a “special interest.”

You see, I live on what used to be the far southwest edge of the Vegas Valley. In the almost 20 years we’ve been there, we’ve gone from fewer than a dozen homes west of us to closing in on 1,000. It sucks and we hate it. But the empty lot just north of our house has stayed empty. It’s been owned by the same guy since the late 1950s, when Blue Diamond was still just a dirt road.

His kids have decided to develop it and make some dough, which is fine. But they want a bunch of variances from the current zoning so they can put a gas station and fast food joint and convenience store and maybe a car wash less than 20 feet from my house. Current zoning calls for 10 times that distance and we successfully fought off one development attempt five years ago. The developer at that time met with the neighbors and made adjustments to the plan that we could all live with and then disappeared. Now there is a new developer (same land owner) who has thrown all of that out and wants to put a SpeedeeMart and gas station there. We’re fighting again.

As my wife and I work to organize our neighbors, I keep coming back to the same passage in that book and wondering if I might be part of the problem.

The whole idea of our government is this: If enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it.

Was that us?

I found myself thinking about our developer fight and comparing it to the story I’ve spent a good deal of time covering lately in which a group of pilots with a good lawyer are pushing the city to forego contracted property rights that would result in much more revenue and instead keep the original lease terms (with some minor adjustment to the rate) in place for an additional 10 years at minimum and potentially 20 years.

Keep in mind that the original lease terms had a purpose. By granting cheap land leases, the airport sponsor (i.e., the city) was able to hook in developers to pay to build hangars with the assurance that their lease rate for up to 30 years would be low enough for them to recover their costs and make a substantial profit and at the end of the lease term, the hangars would become property of the city. The city would then be able to offer new leases for the buildings at that point for substantially more money.

When trying to understand this issue early on, I sent queries to entities who might have some experience with this issue. One of them got back to me in just the past couple of days.

T.J. Chen is the president of the Southwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives —an entity that the BC airport is itself associated with. He said:

“The urgent objective of the developer is to get the property under lease and initiate the project with the thought that ‘…we (the lessee) can deal with reversion later…let’s just get the lease agreement completed and get the project going and we can worry about reversion down the road….’ When ‘down the road’ comes, the original lessee may not even be around anymore and the heirs or new owners who had the lease assigned to them, are responsible to follow the terms and conditions of the lease agreement.

“As the term of the lease is set to expire, the issue of reversion now becomes a factor. Additionally, the oversight body — city council or airport board — that approved the original lease agreement is not around either. The current owner who now holds the ground lease is in the position of turning over the hangar to the airport sponsor when the agreement expires. The situation becomes political with the lease holder pleading with the governing body not to take their property. The appointed or elected officials are less willing to enforce the lease agreement established decades earlier because of vocal tenants. It is in the airport’s best interest, both internally and externally, to transition the property from a ground lease to a facility lease as the revenue is much higher. “

Or, to make that a lot shorter, and paraphrasing the city manager when he presented pros and cons of new building leases versus extended land leases to the council, the single advantage of extended ground leases is keeping the current tenants happy.

Got that?

It’s a tough situation for a reporter. The bottom line is that reporting on a subject on the news pages and then opining on the same subject on the editorial pages is fraught with peril and opens the reporter up to accusations of bias. So, without offering an opinion, I’ll just make the obvious comparison and pose a question.

So, back to the book and my being worried about being part of the problem. In this case, I don’t think I crossed the line. All we are doing is insisting that development is done under existing zoning requirements. In other words, as we say all the time, developers need to “build what you bought” and not expect the rules to be changed later.

How is that different from the concerned residents of Boulder City who are insisting that everyone stick to the original terms of the contracts for those hangars?

Or, to quote T.J. Chen again, “Private investment in aviation facilities is no justification for controlling the leasehold in perpetuity.”

Not on my turf

In early April, the City Council heard a presentation by Lage Design about staff’s recommended option to remove 35% of the turf at the Boulder City Municipal Golf Course.

I-11 is NOT the Autobahn

When the I-11 highway opened almost six years ago, it alleviated much of the heavy traffic congestion through Boulder City. But this beautiful expanse of open road brought with it a sense that “opening up” and putting the pedal to the metal is OK. It’s not.

New law shapes golf course design

I like golf. While I was in college, I decided to take a class in golf – you could call it a “golf course” course. I figured it would be a great way to relax, enjoy nature, and (maybe) boost my grade point average at the same time! For a semester, I learned the basics: how to drive, chip, putt. It was enjoyable. Many of my classmates that semester had been golfing for years. They were better than me, but I was determined to get a good grade out of the class.

The art of communication in consciousness

For Memorial Day I am exploring human consciousness with you. Many misunderstandings have been fought over the lack of a mutual perspective among the parties involved. What better gift is there than one that assists in the art of communication? My work in formulating the discipline of Aquarian Theosophy has led me to the following understanding of humanities’ reality; consciousness is the basis of understanding.

Alumni events, marriage and a real Nazi

Ron’s column from a few weeks ago inspired me to tell a story about a weird event from my past. Mine is not as exciting as his in that there is no wrestler named Silo Sam. But there is at least one Nazi. And, no, not the current “I disagree with your politics so you are a Nazi” version. An actual card-carrying member of the party.

Las Vegas Veterans’ Memorial to Boulder City?

Veterans’ memorials can be found all over the Silver State. They are well deserved. They honor individuals who served the nation, and also commemorate battles and events regarding the many military anniversaries in Nevada.

City manager bids fond farewell

I may be leaving Boulder City, but it was not an easy decision. From the first time I came in and met the staff and community leaders, I saw a city filled with people who truly care about where they live and work. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to work with some incredible people.

Is the grass always greener?

Many people in the past played a golf game to cement a business deal, didn’t they? They also played golf to socialize. Has Boulder City recognized lessening play on golf courses? Or, from another perspective, what happens when million-dollar homes are placed around our open space golf course with views of the McCullough Mountains? Do fewer people play golf on the Boulder Creek golf course?