Today, District Court Judge Jerry Wiese ruled against Clark County in denying a quick conclusion to its lawsuit against Save Red Rock. Judge Wiese, however, denied Save Red Rock a quick dismissal on anti-SLAPP grounds. For the time being, the two sides will continue to fight in court over the future of a plot of land bordering Red Rock Canyon.
Save Red Rock’s ability to speak against the proposed development at Clark County Government Center was at stake today. According to Save Red Rock’s Heather Fisher, “We’re fighting for the right to be heard.”
What was she talking about? Nevada has an anti-SLAPP law. This prevents individuals or organizations from using what’s called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (or SLAPP suit) to silence someone speaking in a way they don’t like. The Nevada Legislature originally passed the anti-SLAPP law in 2009 and dramatically expanded it in 2013. Free speech advocates then fought back a Steve Wynn funded effort to weaken the law in 2015.
“They are chilling speech, chilling First Amendment rights, by trying to silence Save Red Rock,” exclaimed Former State Senator Justin Jones, now an attorney working on behalf of Save Red Rock.
Clark County has claimed this suit is not about silencing anyone wishing to speak during public comment, but instead determining how the County Commission’s previous approval of development for Blue Diamond Hill affects Gypsum Resources’ current plan to build about 5,000 homes at a former gypsum mine that borders Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA). But in court today, Jones produced documents showing Clark County has already declared the 2011 plan expired.
In a mixed bag for both sides, Judge Wiese dismissed Clark County’s motion for summary judgment (which is normally reserved for the end of trial) on the 2011 plan along with Save Red Rock’s motion to dismiss the entire suit on SLAPP grounds. However, Save Red Rock and allied environmental groups seemed more pleased with today’s outcome. Justin Jones cited Wiese’s statement from the bench on the public’s right to speak out at government hearings when he declared, “[Judge Wiese] understands the code and state statute require the right to petition the government.”
The clearer victory for environmentalists was Judge Wiese’s denial of Clark County’s request for summary judgment on the matter of the 2011 Blue Diamond Hill plan.
After Wiese denied without prejudice Clark County’s claim that a proposal the county itself had declared expired wasn’t actually expired, the Nevada Conservation League’s Vinny Spotleson said the Clark County Commission has no further excuses to make a decision this month on the very similar Blue Diamond Hill development plan that’s active now. “The County Commission has the choice to approve or deny this new small city to be built.”
When asked why Save Red Rock is fighting against this development plan, Heather Fisher spoke of the threat “This borders the NCA. When the developer says it’s not in Red Rock, he fails to mention [it borders park land].” Jim Rhodes, the famed real estate developer who controls Gypsum Resources, wants higher density residential zoning for Blue Diamond Hill. If approved, Fisher fears nearby landowners will move forward with their own plans to build suburban communities in what’s traditionally been a more rural community.
As Clark County’s lawsuit drags on in court, the fight over Blue Diamond Hill moves to the Clark County Commission as its February 22 decision date nears. Stay tuned at Nevada Forward for ongoing Red Rock Canyon coverage.