By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
A proposal at the Nevada Legislature — which would allow a tech company to build a “smart city” with its own government and cryptocurrency within an existing county — could be killed before it gets started by another proposal from a leading Democrat, said the Republican Minority Leader of the state senate.
State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said on Nevada Newsmakers that a bill sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, has the potential to kill the “smart city” in Innovation Zones concept within Storey County, which has been endorsed by Gov. Steve Sisolak and other state officials.
Settelmeyer likened Benitez-Thompson’s Assembly Bill 90 to “reverse economic development.”
“Fundamentally, this would allow Lyon County and Washoe County to say no to the concept of an innovation zone next to it,” he told host Sam Shad.
Sisolak said in his January state-of-the-state speech that Blockchains LLC — a tech firm owned by cryptocurrency millionaire Jeffrey Berns — wants to build a “smart city” in Storey County that would run entirely on blockchains technology.
Sisolak called it a “unique and bold idea.”
Yet Benitez-Thompson’s AB 90 would force a county like Storey to pay impact fees to adjacent counties such as Washoe and Lyon, which provides housing, schools, social services, water, sewer and other necessities for the employees of the large tech firms in Storey County’s Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex.
The bill would also allow Washoe and Lyon to block economic development in Storey, said Settelmeyer.
“If my reading of it is correct, it gives the power of those other counties (Washoe and Lyon) to basically veto other projects within those other counties (like Storey),” Settelmeyer said. “So if Washoe County didn’t like the fact that the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex or Storey County was building another Tesla, they could have the ability to say no.
“Or, they could put a price tag on it, saying, ‘You have to pay us money for the impact you’re going to have.’ And they could do the same thing with Lyon County,” Settelmeyer said.
“So those counties (Washoe and Lyon) are seeing some of the problems of growth,” Settelmeyer said.
The current situation is a losing prospect for Washoe and Lyon counties, Settelmeyer said.
“If you look at homes, traditionally for every dollar they put in for property taxes, they are actually taking back $1.17 to $1.20 in services,” Settelmeyer said.
“Industrial, in general, only takes about 67 cents out of services (for every $1 put in),” he said. “So there is an argument that Storey County needs to have some more homes in order to deal with the cost of growth in that area.”
Water issues also loom over the “smart city” in Storey County concept, Settelmeyer said.
Although Blockchains has purchased water rights in Washoe County near Gerlach, Nevada’s lengthy litigation history with water issues could slow the development of the smart city, Settelmeyer said.
“My family is part of a lawsuit that has settled the water issues on the Carson River for now,” Settelmeyer said. “But it took 58 years of litigation and went through three generations of lawyers. It is just mind boggling how long it can take with water issues. Dealing with water transfers from Gerlach to there (smart city), to say the least, are going to be problematic. There are other water sources that are potentially closer that could be utilized.”
The “smart city” would be in Settelmeyer’s senate district if it is built. Despite his reservations, he supports the overall concept.
“I think it is a fantastic concept and I’d like to learn more about it,” he said. “I’d like to see it succeed.”
It is difficult to get a solid idea about the “smart city” since the bill that would create it has not yet been introduced, he said.
“I have not seen the whole bill yet, nobody has,” he said. “So it is kind of hard to say that the whole thing is great or the thing is terrible without reading the bill.”