It’s Time to Bring Back Reno’s NABs
The Neighborhood Advisory Boards haven’t met for nearly a year.
On top of the devastation COVID-19 has wrought on our communities, our families, our businesses, and our jobs, it has also done a serious number on public participation in local government. Many of Reno’s volunteer Boards and Commissions didn’t meet at all for months. Happily, a large number are back, albeit virtually, as you can see on the official City of Reno Calendar.
Most would probably agree that communication and a sense of community both suffer when people aren’t physically together in a room (something I recently wrote about for Nevada Humanities). But at the end of the day, a virtual meeting is infinitely better than no meeting at all.
Still, one type of City board hasn’t yet returned, and it’s one of the most vital to securing public input on development issues: the five Neighborhood Advisory Boards. They last met in February or March of 2020 and have not yet reconvened.
That’s concerning, since the NABs had only recently regained their full vibrancy after being eliminated in 2014. Reinstating them in March of 2015 was a central pillar of Mayor Schieve’s pledge to restore transparency in government and to actively solicit residents’ feedback on issues affecting them. To have gone without them this long has been a major detriment to community involvement and awareness.
For that reason, I hope you’ll join me in encouraging our City Councilmembers and City Manager to make restoring the NABs a high priority.
You may be asking what are the NABs anyway, why aren’t they meeting, and what makes them so important?
I’m glad you asked!
What are the NABs?
The five Neighborhood Advisory Boards are a critical conduit between the community and City government. Monthly NAB meetings, held either at City Hall or in a large venue in the ward, are open to the public and are generally attended by City of Reno staff, by representatives of proposed developments, and often (although not always) by the ward’s elected City Councilmember.
The City lists three key objectives for the NAB meetings on its informational page:
Improve communication between Reno citizens, City staff, and City Council Members.
Provide citizens the opportunity for early engagement on important community issues.
Create a venue for citizens to review and provide feedback on certain development projects.
Each Board consists of 7-12 volunteer members (I’m not sure why it varies) who are appointed by City Council (anyone can apply; more on that below), but anyone can speak during public comment.
From 2015-2019, the City devoted considerable resources toward staffing and promoting NAB meetings, even introducing social media hashtags to promote coordination and awareness of their discussions and activities. City staff also created some great blog posts and videos to explain the purpose of the NABs and to solicit more applications to join them. Check this one out.
Why are the NABs so important?
The NABs are an excellent forum to discuss anything happening in the ward, from parks to public safety to street conditions. They’re a great place for residents to meet each other and (often) to get to know their Councilmembers, and to familiarize themselves with governmental policies and procedures.
But they aren’t just a feel-good tool for keeping the lines of communication open; they play a formal role in development review. Check out any of the past NAB agendas and you’ll generally find the majority of items under Development Projects. Any development project scheduled to be considered by the Planning Commission or City Council is first sent to the NAB in that ward.
After a presentation by a City of Reno planner or the project’s representative, the NAB members and other residents can ask questions, provide feedback, and write comments on development project review forms that are forwarded to the Planning Commission and City Council in advance of their own discussions of those projects.
The monthly NAB meetings not only alert residents to proposed developments coming down the pipeline, but unlike the public comment period at a Planning Commission or City Council meeting, they allow for discussion among residents, developers, City staff, and Councilmembers, to ensure that everyone’s questions and concerns are addressed.
The fact that the NABs haven’t met for nearly a year has left the most resident-focused stage of review out of every development project that’s come to the Planning Commission and City Council since early 2020. And that’s not good.
Why aren’t the NABs meeting?
Obviously at this point NAB meetings would have to be reintroduced virtually, which comes with its own challenges. But if other Boards and Commissions are meeting, why not NABs?
According to City staff, there are several reasons, including budget cuts, a hiring freeze, and staff departures. Where the City has had three Community Liaisons (who coordinate NABs along with other Board and Commissions and also assist City Councilmembers) they’ll be down to one by the end of January (they are actively working to fill those positions; here’s the job announcement). As a result, the City is prioritizing reconvening legally required boards and “the most critical topics.”
Additionally, with so much time having passed, some of the NABs now have vacancies or expired terms that require reappointments. City Council will supposedly fill the vacancies sometime in February.
But even then, the NABs might not return right away. At the Reno Planning Commission meeting on January 20th (around 1:11 in this video), Acting Community Development Director Angela Fuss said that decision rests with the Councilmembers themselves:
…If the Councilperson who represents that ward wants to bring back their NAB, then that NAB will come back. If that Councilperson decides at this point, during COVID, they don’t want that NAB to come back, then those particular NABs won’t be coming back. So that will be a Council decision, and each Councilperson can choose to bring them back or not.
That’s where you and I come in.
How can residents help bring back the NABs?
1. The most important action we can take right now is to let our Councilmembers know how much we want the NABs to return. And it wouldn’t hurt to drop a line to the new(ish) City Manager, Doug Thornley, who heads up City administration. Here are their emails (you can identify your ward here):
Ward 1: Jenny Brekhus, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 2: Naomi Duerr, email@example.com
Ward 3: Oscar Delgado, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 4: Bonnie Weber, email@example.com
Ward 5: Neoma Jardon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor: Hillary Schieve, email@example.com
At-Large: Devon Reese, firstname.lastname@example.org
City Manager: Doug Thornley, email@example.com
2. Apply for a NAB position.
The NABs are always in need of committed, engaged citizens who want to help make our neighborhoods better places to live. The City is seeking applications to serve on each NAB, and if they really do plan to make all the appointments in February, anyone who’s interested should apply right away. If that’s you, just visit the Boards and Commission page, where you can complete and send in an application online.
The longer the NABs aren’t meeting, the more normal it feels to be without them. And we can’t afford to lose them!
PREVIEW: January 27th City Council & Redevelopment Agency meeting
After the flurry of development-related items at the January 13th Reno City Council meeting, the January 27th agenda only has a few. You can access the full agenda and staff reports here, but there are only three items with much relevance to development.
D.3: Approval of the formation of a Special Assessment District and Development Financing Agreement to finance public improvements at the StoneGate development at Cold Springs. (staff report)
D.4: Approval of agreements with the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation for a 30-year renewable lease of the former Rosewood Lakes Golf Course in order to restore the property to natural wetlands, preserve open space, and create a nature study area. This is formalizing aspects of a plan approved a few years ago. (staff report)
I. 1 and I. 2: Two appeals of recent Planning Commission decisions regarding sections of the Daybreak development filed on behalf of the adjacent property owner, but the appellant does not oppose the Planning Commission’s decisions and withdrew one appeal on January 22nd while agreeing to continue the other. (staff report for I.1 and I.2)
BRIEF TIP: Applying for a City of Reno Board or Commission position
There are usually vacancies on multiple City Boards and Commissions at any given time, with numerous applicants vying for appointments. So how can you improve your chances?
Do your homework. Read up on the commission or board to make sure you know what it does and whether it’s a good fit for you. Some require specific expertise, at least for specific slots.
Make personal contact with the City Councilmember appointed as liaison to that Board or Commission, even if you don’t live in their ward. The others generally defer to that Councilmember when it comes to appointments, so you’ll want to make sure they know who you are and something about you.
Fill out the online application thoughtfully, especially when describing your experience and interest. And remember that your application becomes part of the public record, so don’t say anything you don’t want the world to know.
Have a great week!