Reno city council candidates focus on food, drinks, small business and technology
This is the third part of a four-part series of Reno city council and mayoral candidate interviews. We asked fans what they wanted to know about the candidates and came up with the below 10 question. Read more about the other 4 candidates and origin of this series here. All answers have been summarized for space, brevity and context. We urge you to listen to the complete interview audio at the bottom of each story.
Elisa Cafferata and Naomi Duerr, both candidates for Reno’s 2014 city council election in ward 2, discuss their take on small business startups, technology and food and drink. Elisa works in the Reno Collective so her focus on startups and technology comes from first-hand experience working with the people leading the charge in the city. Noami’s work with the Truckee Meadows Flood Project gives her a perspective on working with a different type of collaboration. Full disclosure, Elisa and I have known each other for several years and gave a presentation together at WordPress Camp a few years ago.
1. What is your vision for Reno? How do you plan to help it get there?
Context: This is a simple establishment question. It sets the tone of the interview.
Elisa: Elisa said she’s been watching the startup, tech and innovation scene from the Reno Collective and would like to make Reno the tech, startup, entrepreneurship capital of the world. She said we should stop chasing Tesla (this interview was before Tesla starting building the gigafactory) and other companies like it and look inward instead. She said Reno is good at starting projects but not sustaining them, so there’s a tension between old and new Reno and wants to see government help support and sustain startups through licensing and regulations.
Naomi: Naomi’s vision is “Reno is a thriving fascinating fiscally sound community with limitless possibilities.” She said the first thing we need to do is restore fiscal stability. Some of the key issues she would like to address relate to regional fire and public safety issues. She wants to celebrate Reno’s natural setting and culture as a basis for improving the economy. She wants to move forward by building consensus and “getting things done. I’m ‘Duerr’ and always have been,” she said.
2. What is Reno’s current image inwardly and/or outwardly? What should it be in the future?
Context: This question is a concern to many locals since the recession, when we learned that casino gaming will not sustain Nevada and persistent negative stereotypes hurt our reputation.
Elisa: The people who live in Reno know what a great community it is, Elisa said. Because most advertising of the city is about gaming, outsiders may not know what kind of community Reno has in terms of outdoors, food and culture. She wants to focus on making Reno a great place for locals and wants to continue promoting and supporting locally grown projects.
Naomi: From an outward perspective, most people think we’re in the ’50s and ’60s and on the top of every bad list, Naomi said. People know about Lake Tahoe, the Olympics in Squaw Valley and they know about gaming but that’s about it. On the other hand, locals view themselves as enlightened and the next hot undiscovered treasure, she said. In order to move forward, Naomi said Reno needs to take advantage of the University of Nevada, Reno and make use of hidden talents in the community. Naomi said she sees high-tech as being part of warehousing, manufacturing, distributing and drones, not software and hardware. During the flood project, she said her research showed her Reno’s low tax and lack of inventory tax makes it a hub for distribution in the west coast. She said Tesla is one great example of that.
3. What role, if any, do local brewing and distilling businesses play in Reno’s future identity/image/vision?
Context: Breweries and distilleries represent an artisan business, especially in Nevada, that drive an economic index called discretionary spending. Discretionary spending is the type of money consumers spend on non-essential items after bills and taxes. If locals and tourists can afford alcohol and contribute to this local industry, it demonstrates the overall health of the community. More specifically, these businesses can drive awareness and tourist traffic.
Elisa: Elisa’s said it’s important to create a community where people are willing to invest their own time and money into their ideas. She cites examples of organic growth in the food and beverage industry in Reno and would like to see more people investing their time and money. She said Reno has a history of putting all its eggs in one basket and when the money or interest runs out, we end up with something unsustainable.
Naomi: Naomi sees Reno as a food and drink destination and considers herself a foodie. Naomi gave examples of a few events she planned to attend and pointed out that she grows her own grapes (pictured above). The brewpubs fulfill some of the cultural need for new and better food and drink. Naomi said she loves to travel to places with good food and drink and plans most of her trips around that and thinks Reno would become more of a travel destination because of the new restaurants and breweries. One thing that will help Reno distinguish itself from Las Vegas is the local food movement that they are not able to compete with because of regional growers in Northern Nevada.
4. How does the “University Town” plan to connect and expand the University of Nevada, Reno fit with the more adult themed parts of Reno’s districts?
Context: The “University Town” or Reconnecting Districts concept is an idea to connect the University of Nevada, Reno to downtown Reno with mixed-used zoning, a ban on casino development and a push for transit and parks.
Elisa: Elisa said it’s been great to see UNR make a proactive effort to participate in the economic development of the city. She would like to see the city continue promoting that connection and find ways to help people create their own educational plans to be successful if they don’t attend the university. To Elisa, the new economy looks like a more diversified talent pool of people creating their own jobs and businesses.
Naomi: Naomi said the connection helps bring a wider array of people and businesses downtown that wouldn’t usually be there. Many college students are 21 and older so she doesn’t see a conflict with the adult-themed downtown. Her concern is more about public safety as it relates to ensuring students’ safety especially if there’s alcohol involved. “We don’t want one big ‘frat party’,” she said.
5. Would you bring attention to the local brewing/distilling businesses in the city through government supported advertising and/or marketing with City of Reno or Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority?
Context: The RSCVA and the City of Reno promotes many local businesses in its efforts to bring tourists to the area.
Elisa: Elisa said she doesn’t think there’s much government-supported advertising but instead thinks the city council members should promote the city in their speeches and conversations and travels. She does see it as the RSCVA’s role to support more local businesses. She said, for example, the Frey family in Fallon is a great story to tell about Nevada using locally grown ingredients and would like to look at new ways to get businesses to continue on for generations.
Naomi: “The simple answer is yes,” she said. It’s important that the rest of the world know that Reno is a food and drink destination.
6. Reno and Las Vegas both have loose open container and public intoxication laws. Do you consider those laws good or bad?
Context: This relates to the type of culture in Nevada and many outdoor drinking events that we have in town. Las Vegas recently banned glass containers on Fremont Street because it was becoming a public safety issue. It should be noted that Nevada does not have any laws prohibiting public intoxication (drunk driving not withstanding) and is actually against Nevada state law for any local government to create a law prohibiting it. #becauseNevada However, open alcohol containers outside are prohibited (especially in cars, except limos) and downtown events are allowed because they create a “beer garden” perimeter around the event.
Elisa: Elisa said she did a little research and found that Reno has evolved a smart way to manage public intoxication during big events. Casinos provide additional police and by closing down the areas, large events provide a good balance of fun and safety. She said Reno should definitely keep that going.
Naomi: Naomi said the wine walks and other events help bring people around to businesses, but people are more interested in drinking the wine than buying merchandise. She wants to find out how to take the wine walks and make them more successful for businesses. Also, she notes, the wine being served is not very high quality. She wants to look at setting up the stores differently to make them more successful. To her, the bad is that the events encourage public intoxication and it requires more police for public safety, which is more expensive to the merchants or the city. Some of the crawls, she said, probably get a little bit out of hand.
7. Does the Economic Development and Redevelopment Agency help or hurt businesses?
Context: This question is about whether or not redevelopment agencies are needed to help the city grow and change.
Elisa: Economic development is done outside of government but Elisa said she’s most interested in their newer entrepreneurship efforts. Her concern is if Reno puts all its eggs in one basket.
Naomi: Things like EDON and EDAWN are designed to help, Naomi said, to the extent that Reno is on a journey toward continuous improvement. She cited an example where she worked on the Truckee River Flood Project and reached out to the university without a lot of extra staff to help bring different groups together. She said she thinks the agencies are important but might also need to be tweaked. Naomi said she wants to interface with more people to understand how all the parts work. Naomi continued to discuss important changes and the evolution of Nevada since the recession, listen to the full audio to hear more about this perspective.
8. Do the two redevelopment zones — Downtown and Midtown-Fourth Street zones — help or hurt businesses?
Context: The redevelopment zones in Reno are responsible for many new businesses but is it at the cost of other areas of town?
Elisa: Elisa cites the brewpub law that states breweries and distilleries need to be in city redevelopment zones. For her, it’s important to balance public safety and fun. She said there’s not going to be a lot of city investment since most of the redevelopment money is already spoken for. Ultimately, she said the zones are important tools to help the city grow.
Naomi: Naomi said she thinks they definitely help businesses because they focus energy and create a desire to be in the area. If she had a food and beverage business she would relocate to these areas. Although they in some ways may draw business away from other areas. Reno saw this with businesses relocating to STAR bond areas.
9. As casino employment has declined, food and beverage service employment has increased throughout Nevada. How would you deal with this change in the local economy?
Context: According to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the casino industry employed 14% fewer people in 2013 than it did in 2000, while the food and drink places employed 65% more. This is a significant change in a tourism and local economic driver.
Elisa: “Folks who think gaming is going to be the central economic drive in Northern Nevada have a different vision than I have,” she said. Since gaming is legal in 40 of the 50 states, people no longer come to Nevada just to gamble. She sees gaming as always being a part of the economy but not the central driver. Las Vegas, she said, has been able to capitalize on retail, food and beverage while in Reno it’s more of a local food scene, which feels more consistent with the community feel of Reno. That includes generational family businesses.
Naomi: Casinos bring in a certain kind of visitor who is looking for a specific experience within the walls of the casino, she said. Naomi would like to capitalize on more local assets, such as recreation, farm to table, high-end restaurants, locally made beverages, shopping and art. She said the change in economy is exciting because it helps bring in people interested in more unique opportunities in the Reno-Sparks region.
10. Much of the difficulty in establishing liquor production businesses in Nevada comes from local regulations. Some cities and government agencies (including Las Vegas) established programs to help the industry. What regulations, agencies or programs might you propose to change, create or cut as it relates to the liquor production industry?
Context: This question combines everything into one direct question about new liquor businesses and how the candidate can influence that process. Some regulations might include forcing breweries and distilleries to build grease traps, a very expensive and completely irrelevant utility. It can also related to zoning, liquor laws, taxation and distribution.
Elisa: Elisa said she knows Reno recently adjusted its licensing fees to bring them in line with surrounding areas. The city is also in the process of creating streamlined business application system online, she said. The people at the Reno Collective think there should be a “hacker” license — hacker in the good way, not Internet trolls — because groups will come together to create a project then separate. She would like to look at all regulations and see if there’s a good balance that supports small business and start ups since many regulations are used to keep small businesses away. And this, she said, applies to liquor and brewpubs. She doesn’t have any specific changes but is supportive of local investment.
Naomi: Naomi said this is an area where she wants to learn more about what the industry needs. “I’m on a listening tour,” she said. As a business owner she understand what small business go through but less specific to the liquor industry. She finds that in general, it’s difficult to start a business in the this community. Some efforts the city is making include a centralized licensing center instead of needing to go to three different places to file something. She, however, does not advocate for businesses that would pollute the air or water, so regulations of that kind should stay in place.
For the full interview and final comments made by the two candidates, listen to the audio clips below.
Elisa Cafferata’s interview
Naomi Duerr’s Interview
Reno City Council Ward Map