Before the Mesquite City Council even had an opportunity to hear a proposal for an affordable housing project desperately needed in the community, the developer pulled his request from the agenda for the Tuesday, Jan. 23, meeting.
The action apparently was caused by considerable back lash community members and parents sent to city and elected officials. Several officials called the input vile, vicious and “a classic case of racism and classism.”
Mesquite Mayor Al Litman said at the meeting’s beginning that “the developer had withdrawn his intent for this parcel. I want to say that workforce housing is important to this community. There is a real need for this type of development.”
The 2.33 acre property under consideration is located on West Old Mill Road, which is currently used as a drop-off, pick-up lot for the Virgin Valley Elementary School. The developer from St. George, Utah, intended to construct 24 two-story rental townhomes that would include covered parking and common area amenities.
Even though the agenda item was pulled without hearing, Councilman Dave Ballweg addressed the issue saying he was disappointed with Clark County School District because it had not worked out any agreement with the city to officially use the acreage nor had it made provisions with the city to accept liability for any accidents that may occur on the lot.
“The Clark County School District has not been cooperative in any way over time to solve their problem. We are going to pursue that more,” Ballweg said.
Councilman George Rapson, speaking by telephone, said he was concerned about the liability issue also. But he went further in his remarks saying, “I want to thank the developer who had a very needed and timely project. I appreciate them understanding the ramification of the location and their flexibility. Both parents and the developer got to the right answer.”
VVES principal Kathy Davis told the council she appreciated their action on the issue and allowing the drop-off point to remain as is. She also said the community does need workforce and low-income housing.
Community member Michelle West addressed some of the concerns that were raised like the amount of traffic that could have been generated by the project and the school. “But when this issue was raised I heard a lot of invalid and ugly comments about ‘those’ types of apartments and ‘those’ types of people around our schools. I’m not okay with that.”
She said the perception of the type of people who occupy so-called low-income housing was misguided and actually included police officers, teachers and professionals. “Those people are all over our community. I hope when you do consider low-income housing projects in the future that you don’t accept any closet, biased racism and any type of classism when you make your decision.”
Rapson followed up on West’s comments saying “that’s exactly what I thought when this thing came on the agenda. I knew it was going to be an ugly battle. I also knew the closet racism and classism is happening. It offends me, frankly. It will come up again. I am hopeful that when it does, the community will understand the need. It doesn’t equate to crime. It equates to helping those who need help and are seriously interested in making a better life for themselves and their kids.”
Addressing the liability issue the city could potentially have from accidents, Rapson said “I hope the parents continue the same outrage they had about the low-income housing with the school district for not helping us out. I want to see all these outraged parents step up and show their outrage to the Clark County School District.”
Rapson said after the meeting that the community input he received via emails was “a classic case of racism and classism that I find abhorrible for our city. I was shocked and very upset by some of the messaging I got from parents in our town.”
Ballweg also said after the meeting that the level of viciousness in the emails he received was unprecedented. “They were some of the most vile I’ve ever seen,” Ballweg said.
City attorney Bob Sweetin said during the meeting that the city would pursue the legal issues between the city and the school district that have gone unfinished. “We do have a history of trying to work with the school district on that property and they have no interest. With the changes that have been made, there are a number of ways we can go about it by working directly with the school site.”
Sweetin said he would immediately work on a waiver of liability and indemnification of the city by the school district. Later he would work on future plans for the site and bring it back to council.
Litman said he would also work with Sweetin to pursue a resolution of the situation with the school district.