The Big Squeeze
COMMENTARY: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
June 5, 2002
Desert Inn Estates residents who have refused to move from their homes to make way for a planned resort claim that Steve Wynn is trying to cut off access to their neighborhood by recently dedicating part of Country Club Lane to Clark County for the widening of Sands Avenue. The strangulation technique they describe is becoming commonplace as our local political power shifts away from citizen control.
The ten long-time homeowners who remain in the neighborhood that borders the future site of Wynn's $1 billion resort say the private road wasn't Wynn's to give to the county, and his giving it takes away their access to their homes - a maneuver they believe was by design to make their lives miserable and cause them to move away.
"This eliminates ingress and egress to our houses," said one homeowner. "How this can be approved is beyond me. It not only takes our property rights away, but it landlocks us." The homeowners believe there is collusion between Wynn and Clark County officials to make this possible. Wynn is historically one of the biggest political campaign contributors in Nevada.
John Netzorg, the homeowners' attorney, says that Wynn's company thinks it owns the street and can hand it over to the county without the residents' input," thereby landlocking his clients. "The whole process in front of the county has been a farce, and that is being charitable," Netzorg said.
Homeowners have fought Wynn since his purchase of the Desert Inn in June 2000. Wynn claims that the purchase made it possible for him to do away with all the covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&R's) of the D.I. Homeowner's Association making it possible for him to not only build a wall between residents' open back yards and his golf course, but also construct a noisy batch plant -- a cement and gravel mixing facility -- on one of the vacant lots in the neighborhood. Even in the face of this harassment, the neighbors will not move away from their once-beautiful and pristine neighborhood.
Ironically, it was Wynn who once bought a small piece of Strip land to throw a monkey wrench into plans to build Caesar’s Palace. He bought several adjacent acres and threatened to build a low-end slot "grind joint" to ruin the neighborhood if Caesars did not buy him out. They did, and he used the money to buy out the Doumani Brothers at the Golden Nugget. The rest is history.
Wynn invented the scheme!
This all reminds me of a situation that occurred in the mid 1990s when Michael Flores would not sell his Villa De Flores apartment house to Wynn to expand the Mirage. Wynn offered $3 million; Flores wanted $6 million. As a tribute to Flores' tenacity, the tiny apartment house remains in the middle of the Mirage parking lot to this day. However, Mr. Flores has since learned a valuable lesson about local politics when he was refused permission by Clark County Commissioners to improve or enlarge his property into a time-share vacation facility. Nonetheless, he also realizes that Villa De Flores still sits in the way of further expansion of the Treasure Island and Mirage, and new owners may succumb to his financial demands - someday.
In addition, Flores knows that since the Pappas case in Downtown Las Vegas, government is finding it increasingly difficult to illegally take one private property for the benefit of another private developer. Former District Court Judge Don Chairez ruled against the City of Las Vegas in the precedent setting case several years back, and since that Constitutionally sound ruling, Chairez has found it almost impossible to raise campaign funding from casinos for his future political ambitions.
And now, the owners of the once beautiful D.I. Golf Course Estates sit and wonder if they are about to become the next Michael Flores's or Don Chairez's of our little town? As they struggle to access their homes from Twain or Paradise Road, they, every day are realizing that they are charter members of a select group of local citizens - people who challenged those who rule our community through unlimited political campaign largess.
Another unlikely champion is emerging in the select group of those fighting the powers that are attempting to squeeze people out of their homes or businesses for the sake of others that do not deserve the power they have amassed. The latest warrior is Buffalo Jim Barrier, a professional wrestler who owns an auto garage that is standing in the way of the expansion of a topless bar.
Barrier, who has often been featured on these pages, is the victim of a political favor recently rendered by the City of Las Vegas Fire Department. After twenty-one years of running a business featuring convenient parking, a new landlord with political connections wants to squeeze Barrier out of his lease to make way for an expansion of a neighboring adult club.
Under Color of Law, the city Fire Department just posted No Parking - Fire Lane signs alongside Barrier's business thereby causing customers to be greatly inconvenienced - a government assisted squeeze tactic now becoming familiar. As is the case with Wynn in the county, city politicians including Mayor Oscar Goodman are running for cover from this obvious ploy being copied by another generous political campaign contributor.
No one will challenge Steve Wynn in the county, and even our happy Mayor shies away from challenging Barrier's landlord in the city. It seems that Oscar Goodman, prior to becoming Mayor, was the criminal defense attorney of several of Barrier's landlord's cronies. Though the Mayor denies turning his back on numerous dangerous conditions at the campaign contributor's place of business, when city facilities are used to aid and abet the expansion of a topless bar, it takes clout from the top of City Hall!
It seems that Constitutional rights are something of an abnormality in our valley. If there was ever a clear example of "Its not what you know, but who you know," in Las Vegas, that time is now. It seems that a few pythons have taken over our local government.
Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner. Visit his website at: http://www.stevemiller4lasvegas.com