Judge tosses growth initiative
A judge ruled Tuesday that Douglas County voters will not decide the fate of a growth cap proposal this November.
District Judge David Gamble said decisions on zoning issues, such as regulating the number of buildings constructed per year, should be made by county commissions.
Gamble ruled the right to file an initiative does not extend to voters regarding zoning issues.
The Sustainable Growth Initiative was placed on the ballot after supporters gathered signatures to limit growth in Carson Valley to 280 dwelling units per year.
Last month, Nevada Northwest LLC sued the Douglas County Commission and the Sustainable Growth Initiative committee’s five leaders to have the growth cap stricken from the ballot.
Gamble heard arguments on the lawsuit last Wednesday.
Gamble wrote the SGI isn’t needed because the county’s master plan contains ways to slow growth and voters retain the ability to vote leaders out of office.
“… the initiative process, when addressing existing local policies, does not apply to matters legislatively delegated to local governing boards,” Gamble wrote. “The same must hold true in Douglas County.”
Sustainable Growth Initiative Committee Co-Chair John Garvin said he was disappointed with the decision.
Garvin said the Sustainable Growth Initiative committee will meet later this week to consider appealing Gamble’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Garvin said the group firmly believes the issue is fair game for the initiative process, because members don’t consider the growth cap to be a zoning issue, he said.
“It has nothing to with zoning or land planning,” Garvin said. “It simply puts the brakes on the rate of growth, not how it’s done.”
County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, who was named in the lawsuit, said Gamble’s decision was not a surprise.
“My heart goes out to the folks who spent hundreds of, if not more, hours working” on this issue for Douglas County, Etchegoyhen said.
The ballot initiative brought the issue of growth to the forefront in Douglas County, Etchegoyhen said.
Etchegoyhen said the political climate has changed and the county commission could now consider instituting its own growth cap proposal using the master plan’s provisions.
“We could implement a similar ordinance,” Etchegoyhen said, “and make the decision on an intelligent, rational basis.”
“I think the backing is there to do intelligent, fact-based growth control,” he said.
Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle, who filed a motion in support of Nevada Northwest’s lawsuit, said he had not read Gamble’s ruling and declined comment.
Carole Thompson of the Douglas County Building Industry Association, said she was thrilled with Gamble’s decision.
“We need to keep the master plan and use that to make changes in the county,” Thompson said. “That’s our guide.”
Two economic studies detailing the effects of the master plan will go forward despite the initiative’s removal.
Douglas County Commission Chairman Don Miner was also pleased with the ruling.
“Wow! Well, I applaud the judge’s efforts in following the precedent of the law. I always believed our (district attorney’s office) fully researched (the issue) and were right in their advice,” Miner said.
Although Miner said the initiative won’t be on the November ballot because it will have to go through a new signature-collection process, he said it could be on a future ballot as an advisory-type question.
“If it’s done right and they follow proper legal advice, I think it will be an advisory question in the future,” Miner said.
n Staff Writer Regina Purcell and News Editor Christy Chalmers contributed to this report.