Everybody suing everybody else over everything, same as usual

Lawsuit news! Nothing but lawsuit news!

Yeah. I think you can see why I don’t always report on every piece of lawsuit news: There’s nothing stopping anyone from filing suit for any reason, so while it’s often interesting to know what’s being challenged in court (hey, you never know what might succeed), most of it ends up being just a lot of legal fees signifying nothing, and there are more important things going on. Today’s a slow news day, though, so a perfect day to play catchup, and give you all some information for filling out your restraining order brackets.

MLS rejects Vegas expansion bid, $122m stadium subsidy plan promptly evaporates

Looks like Bob Beers can drop that lawsuit over the rejection of his petition drive to repeal Las Vegas’s $122 million MLS stadium subsidy: There will be no subsidy, because there will be no stadium, because there will be no Las Vegas MLS team, by decree of league commissioner Don Garber.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber told Las Vegas officials Thursday the city’s bid for an MLS franchise in 2017 or 2018 was unsuccessful. Sacramento, Calif. and Minneapolis remain in the competition for the 24th MLS franchise.

“Given the timing of our expansion rollout and the uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward in Las Vegas, we are no longer considering Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018,” Garber wrote to Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

No one quite seems to know what that “uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward” line meant, but really, it doesn’t matter — Garber’s the boss, so he can approve or reject expansion candidates for any reason or no reason at all if he wants.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman still wants to try to get a major-league sports team of some kind, but it apparently won’t be with the Cordish-Findlay development group, which spoke of its stadium in the conditional perfect tense yesterday. So, R.I.P., crazy-expensive soccer stadium that only got approved at all because the developers tricked the city council into giving them more lobbying time to pick off one swing vote. You will not be mourned, but we’ll still be a little sad to no longer have reasons to write about you.

Vegas stadium foes fall short in petition drive, file suit over signature count switcheroo

Opponents of Las Vegas’s deal to give $122 million to developers of an MLS-ready soccer stadium fell short in their petition drive to get a ballot referendum to repeal the plan, getting only about 7,000 verified signatures toward the 8,258 the city determined was needed. So now they plan to go to court over that 8,258 number, since it wasn’t announced until weeks after they’d begun gathering signatures:

Judge Jerry Wiese is set to hear a lawsuit filed by opponents of the $200 million stadium’s financing plan on Feb. 4.

That suit, filed by councilman and staunch foe of the stadium subsidy Bob Beers on Friday, seeks to knock some 6,000 signatures off the number City Hall says is needed to win a spot on the ballot.

An apparent error in the city clerk’s office saw subsidy opponents scramble to come up with around four times the roughly 2,300 signatures city officials first thought would be needed to put the issue to voters.

The dispute is over whether the number of signatures needed is a percentage of the votes cast in the last municipal election, or in the last municipal or county election — if you really want to read about it, you can do so here. Or you can just wait till Wednesday to see what the judge says.

 

Las Vegas tells soccer stadium referendum petitioners deadline actually today, oopsie

Las Vegas city councilmember Bob Beers is not having a very good couple of months. First one of his fellow councilmembers flipped to cast the deciding vote on a $122 million soccer stadium subsidy after Beers and his colleagues gave the stadium developers extra time to eliminate the need for public subsidies. (Instead they spent the time lobbying the swing vote, because duh.) Then when Beers proposed a referendum campaign to overturn the council vote, this happened:

The opposition group was told it had until Jan. 24 to gather 2,308 signatures to put an initiative on the June ballot seeking to block taxpayer funding for the project.

Then, on Jan. 14, the city clerk informed the group that there was a miscalculation and that it would need 8,258 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Today, Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic ruled that the signatures were due a day earlier than expected. The petition must be turned in 130 days before the election, but Jerbic said Election Day shouldn’t have been included in calculating the due date.

Today, then, will be a race to file the rest of the petitions, and then possibly a race to file a lawsuit against the city for changing the rules midstream. Isn’t democracy fun?

Vegas councilmember proposes public vote on MLS stadium, fellow councilmember says let’s not get crazy here

Las Vegas city councilmember Bob Beers, having seen his opposition to a $122 million soccer stadium subsidy outwitted by the developers’ clever “Let’s ask for two months to eliminate the subsidies and instead use the time to buy off one of the holdouts with parks for his district” plan, is trying a new tack: a petition drive to put a measure on the June ballot deciding whether to revoke the council’s decision:

Ballot language included as part of the petition drive asks voters to stop the city from “giving, lending or investing” any of its revenue or assets to a proposed Major League Soccer stadium in Symphony Park.

Beers and four other members of the newly formed “Parks Protection Committee” plan to start knocking on doors in Sun City in support of that proposition on Saturday. They need to collect 2,306 signatures over the next two weeks in order to get the question on the municipal election ballot.

(Beers actually first tried to get the council to put this to a June vote, but predictably lost by the same 4-3 margin that approved the stadium deal last month.)

Most after-the-fact stadium repeal referendums fail even when approved by voters, since courts have ruled time and again that voters can’t call backsies on money that’s already been spent. (Not that voters don’t keep trying.) What makes the Las Vegas case interesting is that the stadium project can’t go forward until MLS gives Vegas an expansion team, and that likely won’t happen until after June, so this might actually have legs. Councilmember-who-switched-his-vote-in-exchange-for-park-money-for-his-district Bob Coffin worries that a referendum will cause MLS to hand the expansion team to another city, but that’d be pretty silly when the league can just wait out the vote and see what happens.

Meanwhile, my favorite pair of sentences from the Las Vegas Review-Journal piece on all this:

[Coffin] said council decisions should only be taken to the public in “the gravest of circumstances,” such as a tax increase.

Some $90 million in hotel room tax fees would have to be plowed into paying down bonds used to pay for the project’s construction — dollars that are currently set aside for city parks.

So: tax increase = grave. Taking money from existing parks budget that will either have to be replaced via a tax increase or by cutting parks funds = not grave at all! Also, glass on democracy not to be broken except in case of emergency.

Vegas councilmember: Whoops, guess we shouldn’t have given soccer developers two extra months to lobby us

I hate to say I told you so [editor’s note: no, I actually don’t], but here’s what I wrote back in October when the Las Vegas city council agreed to give developers Cordish Cos. and Findlay Sports another two months to finalize an MLS stadium plan but only if they agreed to “work to reduce or eliminate” any public subsidy:

With four of the seven councilmembers ready to vote down the $3 million a year in city subsidies the developers were looking for, a compromise plan was instead offered by councilmember Ricki Barlow: Vote to keep negotiating with the soccer developers, but only if they agree to work to reduce or eliminate the public subsidy.

If that’s confusing to you — is it reduce or eliminate? and by how much? — then it’s doubly so to Cordish and Findlay, which were decidedly not in on this deal. “They worded it poorly,” Findlay advisor Dean Howes told the Las Vegas Review-Journal afterwards. “They have to come back and tell us what it means.”

What it meant, apparently, was exactly what it sounded like it meant: nothing at all. And less because of that “reduce or eliminate” phrase than by the words that immediately proceeded it:

Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian says she might have been “snookered” on the city’s controversial stadium subsidy deal approved last week. …

Mayor Carolyn Goodman told Tarkanian the motion from Oct. 1 said staff was supposed to “work toward” eliminating public money from the deal — not eliminate it completely. In the end, the approved deal shaved only $3.5 million off the $60 million public subsidy from Oct. 1. …

Tarkanian wanted to clarify [councilmember Ricki] Barlow’s motion, interjecting that staff needed to work toward eliminating, not just reducing, all public money in the proposal.

The meeting video showed [City Manager Betsy] Fretwell also trying to clarify the motion.

Councilman Bob Beers explained the wording’s confusion this way: “In that moment of interruption, everybody focused on the ‘eliminating’ of public dollars and didn’t consider the ‘work towards’ part that preceded the interruption.”

So basically, Cordish and Findlay were facing a 4-3 council vote that wasn’t going to go their way, Barlow bought them some more time by promising to see what he could do to eliminate the public subsidy, and then instead spent the next two months talking one of the four “no” votes into switching sides in exchange for some extra parks funding for his district. The total public subsidy, meanwhile, remains at $122 million, which may be marginally “reduced,” but is a long way from “eliminated.” Yeah, I’d say “snookered” may be a good word for it.

Vegas approves $122m for nonexistent soccer team, in second-largest MLS stadium subsidy ever

D.C. United wasn’t the only MLS franchise to win a big public stadium subsidy yesterday — or at least, not if you count wannabe MLS franchises as well: The Las Vegas city council voted 4-3 yesterday to approve $56.5 million in stadium subsidies and related infrastructure costs for a new stadium to host an as-yet-unnamed, as-yet-nonexistent MLS team that would begin play at an unspecified time. Add in $20 million for a parking garage that will be used by stadiumgoers (for which the team will get to keep parking fees for soccer matches), free land appraised at $38 million to $48 million, plus a full property tax abatement worth between $8 million and $16 million in present value, and you’re talking between $122 million and $140 million in public subsidies, or enough to be the biggest soccer stadium subsidy in U.S. history, if only D.C. United hadn’t set a new record the same day.

It’s absolutely the biggest subsidy ever for an MLS team that doesn’t exist yet, though, so Las Vegas, take a bow!

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that though the Las Vegas Review-Journal has done some excellent reporting on this deal, it’s still prone to the kind of misunderstanding of basic financial math that plagues too much development reporting. Check this out:

To pay off a $50 million bond, the city would have to borrow $90 million to pay the interest on the loan.

If anyone can identify what that’s supposed to mean, please let me know.

Vegas councilmember explains MLS stadium flip-flop: “TESLAAAAAAAAAAA!”

There’s a long article in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal profiling the “two Bobs” on either side of the city’s MLS stadium proposal: Bob Beers, the councilmember who’s been savaging the proposal on his blog, and Bob Coffin, the councilmember who was agin the stadium plan until it was amended to include $25 million in parks for his district, after which he was fer it. (Coffin says he finds accusations that he was “bribed” to support the deal “amusing.”)

The most notable bit, possibly, comes at the very end, where Coffin has this to say about how throwing public dollars at private enterprises can be good sometimes:

“I’m used to dealing with competing interests … People who want zero public dollars haven’t seen how things are built in this state. Tesla. Can I say Tesla? Can say I say that five or six times?”

You can say it all you want, but it might not mean what you think it means.

Vegas swing vote could be swinging back to support MLS stadium, because parks!

Remember how yesterday I wrote this about the proposed Las Vegas MLS stadium deal?

The please-let-it-actually-be-final council vote is set for next Wednesday; if past history is any guide, we won’t get much of a hint of the outcome before then, unless Bob Coffin tips his hand before then.

Bob Coffin has now tipped his hand, and it looks like he may be swinging back to the “yes, let’s give $90 million to a soccer stadium for a team that doesn’t exist yet” side:

Councilman Bob Coffin, a consistent opponent to using public money for the stadium, has softened his stance and appears ready to support a new financing plan that includes $25 million in city money to build the stadium. The key to Coffin’s shift is a new wrinkle in the plan that would guarantee about $25 million for improvements to city parks, something Coffin says is especially needed in older neighborhoods like the ones he represents.

“It’s not the same deal as it was. They’ve improved it a great deal,” Coffin said. “The debt potential is really minimized now. The raid on the revenues for the parks has stopped … It’s going to really help us.”

The Las Vegas Sun isn’t clear on exactly when Coffin said this, but given other quotes from Coffin included in their article, it’s pretty clear that his main concern was getting more money for parks, and now that the stadium deal includes some more money for parks on top of the $90 million for the stadium, he’s all, “Cool, more money for parks!” Which helps explain why the only revision the stadium proponents made in the deal since the council voted in October to “reduce or eliminate” public subsidies for the project was to throw some money at parks, because why worry about making the whole council happy when you can just placate the one swing vote?

All of which should be a lesson: If you’re an elected representative body and want to eliminate public subsidies for a sports stadium, you might want to actually vote down the public subsidies, rather than voting for “Here’s another two months, see if you can come up with something that will get one councilmember to defect from our narrow majority.” Just a suggestion.

Vegas’ final offer on MLS stadium: $76.5m, plus free land and tax breaks and … we’ll get back to you

There is yet another MLS stadium financing plan in Las Vegas, and it goes like this: The city would provide $31.5 million in infrastructure spending, plus $25 million in stadium bonds to be paid off via hotel taxes, plus a $20 million parking garage that would be used by stadium patrons among others (and would be paid for by a TIF district). Plus free land and a property tax break, which the city doesn’t know how much they’d be worth, because they’ve only been working on this for half the year.

That’s marginally better than the $90 million-ish in subsidies that was proposed back in August, maybe, depending on how much of the free land/property tax rebates/garage was included in that deal back then and similarly left off the balance sheet.

It’s not anything like the promise to “reduce or eliminate” public subsidies that the council demanded back in October as a condition of reconsidering the deal, but maybe they’ll figure that getting $25 million shunted from the stadium to public parks will be enough of a fig leaf that they can move ahead? Or maybe they’ll say screw it, we said no then, we meant it. The please-let-it-actually-be-final council vote is set for next Wednesday; if past history is any guide, we won’t get much of a hint of the outcome before then, unless Bob Coffin tips his hand before then.