Supreme Court backs city in fairgrounds question

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The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday ended months of debate over which of two ballot questions concerning the future of Fuji Park and the Carson City Fairgrounds will be on the November ballot.

An initiative petition ballot question championed by the Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds will not appear on the ballot. Supreme Court justices echoed in their Thursday decision the position of city officials that the petition "to preserve Fuji Park and the Carson City Fairgrounds in perpetuity exceeds the electorate's initiative power because it concerns an administrative rather than a legislative act and usurps the Board's authority to sell property under the Carson City charter." The charter defines the city's operating rules as granted by the Nevada Constitution and Legislature.

"Thus," justices argued, "any restriction on the Board's discretionary authority to sell or lease property under the charter must be accomplished by charter amendment, not by an initiative ordinance."

The decision notes that the court generally has a rule "against pre-election court intervention unless the initiative clearly and palpably violates the constitution."

"There is little value in putting a measure before the people that they have no power to enact," justices noted.

The city was ordered to put the petition, supported by 3,400 city voters, on the ballot in April by District Judge Michael Griffin, who questioned the validity of the petition but said he felt the city should let people vote and later challenge the petition's legality. Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg said the court's decision "tells the district courts they should make decisions whether these initiatives are legal."

"If they're not legal, there is no point in going to the length of having an election and voting on something that will be illegal," Forsberg said.

The Concerned Citizen's petition drive was born in June 2001 amid city plans to market the city's fairgrounds for commercial development. The initiative petition asked for an ordinance that would force city officials to maintain and improve the park and fairgrounds "in not less than its present size as a park in perpetuity."

Concerned Citizen's attorney Julian Smith said he was "extremely disappointed" over and disagreed with the court's decision.

"I'm disappointed because they denied 3,400 people's request to put to a vote the question of whether the fairgrounds should be sold to balance the city's budget," Smith said.

Concerned Citizen spokesman Jon Nowlin said the court's decision leaves state residents to wonder "what is fair game for initiative." Nowlin said his group would work to "get out the vote" to prevent the fairgrounds development.

"The positive side of this is if we had not taken the time and trouble to submit the petition, the city wouldn't have an advisory question," Nowlin said. "People will simply express a will come September that they don't want any of those parcels sold."

Mayor Ray Masayko and Supervisor Pete Livermore said they looked forward to the vote on the city's advisory question on the issue. Supervisors in January refused to put the initiative question on the ballot, but they were persuaded enough by its support to approve an advisory question on the sale of the fairgrounds. They also stalled until after the election all attempts to market the fairgrounds for commercial development.

"The message sent by the 3,400 folks who signed that petition deserves to have an advisory question on the ballot," Masayko said. "We want to hear from all the people."

Supervisors committed to preserving and improving Fuji Park and have promised to abide by the outcome of the vote on the advisory question.

The Supreme Court's decision tops a 2 1/2 year debate over development in South Carson City. City supervisors in 1999 sold vacant property across Old Clear Creek Road to Costco, and the focus for more developable land fell to the fairgrounds as city officials watched sales-tax rich retailers locate across the Douglas County line.

Advisory question that will appear on the November ballot:

"While retaining and improving the area known as Fuji Park, should Carson City make available for commercial development City property known as the Carson City Fairgrounds?"


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