Growth cap hits court
August 16, 2002
Douglas District Judge David Gamble heard numerous conflicting court case references and was read aloud various parts of Nevada law Wednesday about whether voters can decide zoning issues they believe their government ignores.
In July, Nevada Northwest, LLC, sued Douglas County and its five county commissioners for placing the Sustainable Growth Initiative on the ballot.
If approved by voters, the growth cap would limit construction of new dwelling units to 280 per year.
The five heads of the SGI committee were also named in the suit, which seeks to keep the initiative off the November ballot.
At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Gamble said he will likely rule on the case Monday.
Gamble grilled the three lawyers about the numerous court case references during an almost three-hour hearing in front of about 80 people jammed into his courtroom.
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Wednesday’s court hearing was expedited because of a mid-September deadline stemming from legal requirements for printing sample ballots, as required by state law.
Nevada Northwest attorney Bill Huss argued the Legislature and state Supreme Court have carved a “niche” in state law preventing initiatives from addressing zoning issues.
In response, Gamble asked Huss what voters should do if they don’t like actions taken by their county commissioners. The question was met with applause by SGI supporters.
Gamble told them to stop applauding.
Huss told Gamble voters always have recourse at the ballot box and can oust elected officials if they feel ignored.
The law states Legislative niches are better than voting, Huss said.
“I know I’m asking you loaded questions,” Gamble said. “And I know they’re loaded, because I loaded them.”
Also, Gamble largely rebuffed SGI attorney Patty Cafferata’s argument that Nevada Northwest couldn’t sue the county.
“Couldn’t you argue that (the growth cap positively impacts) the whole county?” Gamble asked.
“They don’t want them to have a voice,” Cafferata said of Nevada Northwest. “They want them to go away.”
Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle argued county commissioners acted legally when they began working to assist the SGI group to place the issue on the ballot in March.
However, state law has since changed because of a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding Fuji Park in Carson City.
Doyle argued that the Fuji Park case specifically denies voters the ability to act on zoning issues and said zoning questions, or “administrative” issues are up to county commissioners.
“If it’s administrative, then the Supreme Court told me three weeks ago what I have to do,” Gamble said.
Cafferata argued that building limits are legislative in nature, and therefore voters can weigh in via the initiative process.
n Staff Writer Scott Murphy can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com