Par for the course
Sweetheart land deal expected to pass
under the radar - again
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve
July 11, 2005
Developer buys city land
in 1999 for $5,600 per ac. Immediately sells adjacent land for
$130,000 per ac.
(Photo by Steve Miller)
LAS VEGAS - Back in 1999, thousands of calls clogged the
switchboard causing the then-mayor to become so infuriated that she cut
the testimony of citizens who wished to speak in protest of the city
valuable Las Vegas
Valley land to a
campaign contributor for only $5,600 per acre.
During the heated hearing, protester after protester stepped up to the
podium to complain that the price
the city was about to accept was five times under market value. Mayor
Jan Jones, who left office four months after the deal was sealed,
bolstered by her sidekick, then-Councilman Michael McDonald,
limited the speakers to three minutes each.
A thinly cloaked excuse for selling the citizen's land was uttered by
McDonald during the hearing. His excuse was that the land was
restricted" and could never be rezoned to a higher and better use other
than open spaces. Upon repeated inquiry by a citizen who identified
himself as a real estate broker, city attorney Brad Jerbic was forced
clarify the fact that a deed restriction could be rescinded at any time
by the party who
originally filed the document, in this case the city council. He
neglected to mention that if the deed restriction was removed
the city council, the land could someday be rezoned to increase its'
value by 700%.
I broke the story in 1999 for a weekly newspaper owned by attorney John
Fadgen, Jon Moser, and Frank Vipperman. After a certified land
appraiser told the council that the land was worth more
than $40,000 per acre at the time of the hearing, Jones angrily held up
a front page
article I authored, and said,
'I know what ex-Councilman Steve Miller thinks is true, and I take
Land is worth what land is worth. You can speculate. Maybe someday this
worth a lot of money. Maybe it won't."
In contrast to the way
she treated the protesters, when campaign contributor and golf course
developer Billy Walters stepped forward to speak, Mr. Walters was never
asked to limit his presentation, and at one point when he asked for a
glass of water, Jones jumped at the chance to personally pour the water
into her own cup and present it to Billy. Illustrated by that one
simple gesture, a thousand words were spoken.
That was then. This is now. That "someday" Jones mentioned
arrived last week when Walters suddenly resurfaced after six years to
ask the current edition of the city council to remove the deed
restriction. Jones and McDonald are political history, but Walters
now wants their replacements on the council to allow him to scrap the
golf course and build
homes on his $5,600 per acre land. He didn't mention that removing the
restriction would catapult the land value to between $300,000 and
$400,000 per acre, or that the taxpayers who begrudgingly sold him the
land won't have a stake in the new game.
But sometimes things don't always go as planned. Six years after the
sweetheart deal went down, the memory of the former mayor's water cup
gesture and unprecedented generosity still echoes in the minds of many,
and prior to Wednesday's meeting, hundreds of angry phone calls were
again made to the current mayor and council telling them to, this time,
"Say NO to Billy Walters!"
Based on ambiguous wording in the council agenda, it was obvious the
item was never intended to draw attention, and was supposed to pass
without the public's knowledge, making Walters an obscene profit of
between $54 and $64 million at taxpayer expense. But it surfaced on the
public's radar, and they started making calls to city hall, enough so
that even current Mayor Oscar Goodman, someone with close ties to
Walters, had to balk at the propriety of the deal. Goodman reluctantly
tabled the item until the July 20 council meeting. Walters left
Wednesday's meeting looking worried for the first time in his Sin City history.
Walters expresses disappointment after the Las Vegas City Council
decision on whether to rescind a deed restriction to allow
him to build 1000 homes on city
land he purchased for $5,600 acre
for a public golf course
MATTHEW MINARD / LAS VEGAS SUN
Back in 1999 when
purchased the 160 taxpayer-owned acres for only $894,000, he did so
caveat that he would charge low green fees for locals, and accept a
deed restriction to limit the land's use to golf course only. An unusually vocal
McDonald argued vehemently that the $894,000 was desperately needed for
parks. He scoffed at protesters who said that multiple parks
built if the city would sell the 160 acres at fair market value!
"Using money today to
build soccer fields and ball fields is this
council's agenda," Councilman McDonald said before the vote, which
earmarked the money for park and recreation uses.
did nothing to quash the dissension in the audience when the mayor,
McDonald, shut down public comment and moved to sell the land. Her
motion passed 4 to 1. Soon thereafter, Walters was charging everyone,
including locals, $200 green fees. Then to add insult to injury, he
began selling "golf course frontage" for $130,000 per acre!
At the time, McDonald's only income
was his $33,000 per year council salary, and he
lived in a tiny bungalow valued at $46,140 by the Clark County
digs before he voted to sell city land at bargain basement prices
(Photo by Peter Christoff)
McDonald is building a $1.5 million dollar, one acre estate
in Las Vegas'
most posh neighborhood.
Of course, it would be stupid
to think that McDonald's new estate, complete with a 12 car garage, has
anything to do with the way he touted Walters' $5,600 per acre deal way
back in 1999. And its silly to think that the $43,000 Billy reportedly
campaigns of five city council members since then will have anything to
do with the council's decision on July 20.
digs (Photo by Steve Miller)
Campaign contribution and expense
reports often list donations or expenses eminating from 5500 E.
Flamingo Road, an address used by Walters for his "Pacifica Bali Hai,
LLC, dba Cili Fine Dining." The donations usually come from a number of
names, and are reminicent of what is known as "bundling," where a
single doner uses multiple business names to bundle large contributions
to politicians when he or she does not want the public to know who the
actual doner is. It has not been confirmed whether Walters was
bundling, and the practice is not illegal in Nevada municipal elections
In some cases, local
politicians have accepted In Kind donations of
lavish fund raising parties at Billy's "Cili" restaurant located at his
Bali Hai Country Club. Or the politician pays a small amount to Billy
to cover some expenses at Cili,
but nonetheless, the event is usually attended by most of Billy's
friends who comprise the A-list of local movers and shakers -- a
major source of campaign funds that may cause politicians to feel
beholden to their gracious host when the event is over.
Newly elected Las Vegas City Councilman
Steve Ross listed "Cili Fine Dining" on his most recent finance report.
Ross will be asked to approve the lifting of Billy's deed restriction
on July 20. It was not listed in Ross' campaign reports exactly how
much money was generated at the Cili event, nor is it required under
lax Nevada campaign law to list the names of those in attendance, or
whether they donated at the event, or sent their checks afterward.
Following Wednesday's postponement of Walters' second
wording in the agenda item became of interest. It is obvious that the
Nevada Open Meeting Law
was being violated. The law states each
agended item must
contain: "(1) A clear and complete statement of the topics
scheduled to be considered during the meeting.
(2) A list describing the items on which action may be taken and clearly denoting that action may
be taken on those items."
In other words, it must be
easily understood by a layman.
The two Walters agenda items did neither. Here is the wording
used in the agenda:
Item 87: Discussion and possible action regarding an
agreement between the City of Las Vegas and Golf Club of Illinois, an
Illinois corporation, to Release Land Use Condition and to Cancel Water
Provision Agreement for APN 161-09-801-00 and 161-10-202-001 located on
the southeast and southwest corners of Vegas Valley Drive and the
alignment of Stephanie Street, Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada (Revenue
of $2,584,984.00 allocated to the Sanitation Enterprise Fund and
$4,615,016.00 allocated to the City Facilities Capitol Projects Fund -
Item 88: Discussion and possible action regarding
First Amendment Agreement between the City of Las Vegas and Golf Club
Nevada Inc. a Nevada Corporation, to amend the Stallion Mountain Golf
Course Water Provision Agreement dated December 8, 1997 - All Wards
Nowhere in the
two agenda descriptions does it "clearly" and "completely" state that
Walters plans to bulldoze the golf course and sell the land for fifty
times what he paid for it after the deed restriction is lifted.
is a business partner with the Greenspun family, the owners of
the Las Vegas SUN newspaper.
The Greenspuns are partners with Stations Casinos in the Green Valley
Ranch. There's no
doubt Billy's friends in the casino business would rather see six homes
covering the 160 acres, than see
greens and sand traps. The property is within walking distance
from two major Boulder Highway casinos including the Boulder Station,
owned by Stations, and Sam's Town, owned by the Boyd Group, of which
Billy's realtor, Charles L. Ruthe, is a major stockholder.
casinos want more local residents to push the buttons on their
machines. The developers want more land to build housing near the
casinos to satisfy the lust of the casino owners for local customers.
And politicians want more perks and bigger campaign contributions from
the developers and gamers.
This kind of incestuous cycle is what makes
this city tick, and it isn't going away soon.
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