The developers of the massive Daybreak housing project slated to be built in a Truckee River flood plain have donated heavily to three Reno City Council members who voted in favor of the controversial project, angering opponents of the development.
Newport Pacific Land Company, the Newport, California-based company behind the Daybreak project, donated $10,000 to council members Devon Reese, Oscar Delgado and Neoma Jardon. NPC Investor, an affiliated company, contributed another $10,000 to Reese.
The three council members, who are up for election this year, voted to approve the project over the objections of nearby homeowners who worried the southeast Reno development would worsen problems with flooding and exposure to mercury in the soil.
A fourth council member who supported the development, Bonnie Weber, isn’t up for election this year and did not receive contributions from the company.
Neither did the three council members who have continuously voted against the project since it was first proposed in 2018: Mayor Hillary Schieve, Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus and Councilwoman Naomi Duerr.
Reese and Delgado said campaign contributions do not influence their votes. Jardon did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Newport Pacific partner Christopher Bley.
Members of the Upper Southeast Communities Coalition, which has opposed the project from the beginning, aren’t convinced the contributions played no role in the council members’ decision-making.
“Apparently we should have contributed to their campaigns instead of trying to give them actual facts about the danger the residents of southeast Reno will be facing due to the approval of the Daybreak project by Council members Delgado, Reese, Jardon, and Weber,” said John Saludes, the coalition’s treasurer.
Saludes and his wife Bonnie are a prolific campaign contributors themselves himself, having given more than $54,000 to Democratic candidates in Nevada since 2014. They contributed $2,000 to Brekhus this year and $1,000 in 2016, well before the housing development was proposed.
Newport Pacific has had a long political and legal fight to get its project approved. The Reno City Council initially rejected the application in a 6-1 vote in November 2018. Only Weber supported the project.
Three months later, the company filed a $50 million lawsuit, asking a judge to overturn the council’s decision.
Before it could get to a jury, the city council reached a settlement agreement with the company for a slightly altered project. Reese and Delgado were the two council members who worked with Reno City Attorney Karl Hall’s office to broker that settlement agreement.
In a 4-3 vote, the council approved the somewhat scaled down project in October 2019. Most recently, the project survived an appeal to the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency’s governing board — a board Reese sits on.
The project is back to the Reno City Council for a procedural vote Wednesday.
The developers made a $10,000 contribution to Reese in April, followed by a second $10,000 contribution in June. The company also donated to Delgado and Jardon in June.
Under state law, $10,000 is the maximum an individual or a company can give to a candidate. Contributors can get around that limit by using different business entities to make the donations.
The $20,000 donated by the Daybreak developers accounts for 11 percent of Reese’s total contributions this campaign cycle and appears to be the single largest amount given to him by a business.
Reese said campaign contributions are part of the established political process and dismissed the idea that the amount is significant.
“They are barely more than 10 percent of contributions for this year, which is hardly a make or break number,” Reese said.
“I base my actions on the council solely by what’s right for the people of Reno…All I can say is that none of my votes have ever been, nor will they ever be, an exchange or influenced by campaign considerations,” Reese said.
This is Reese’s first time running for the at-large council seat he was appointed to in 2019. His opponent is Reno businessman Eddie Lorton, who has twice run unsuccessfully for mayor.
Delgado, who is seeking his third and final term on the council, initially voted against the project, questioning how so many houses could possibly be built on one of the region’s last remaining Truckee River floodplains. He faces Reno librarian Rudy Leon on the November ballot.
Delgado said he changed his mind after the developers reworked the project during settlement negotiations for the lawsuit — negotiations that Delgado and Reese participated in. Daybreak dropped the number of housing units to 3,995 from 4,700, agreed to pay a fee for the city to use for affordable housing, increased open space and introduced more flood mitigation measures.
Delgado, who represents the ward where the project will be built, said it’s now a better project than what was originally proposed.
“Given the many steps the developer took to address my concerns, I believed the project, as amended, was good for the hard-working families of Reno,” Delgado said.
And he took a shot at his colleagues on the council who voted against the project in the middle of a severe housing shortage that has driven up prices and rent.
“Unlike some, I don’t have the luxury of speaking ad nauseam about the need for additional housing and then voting against projects that will increase housing supply in a responsible manner,” he said. “I made a commitment to represent all my constituents and not just the privileged who oppose any project near their home.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include information about Saludes’ campaign contributions.
Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.