Jacob Snow

Henderson’s city manager on why parks are important, dealing with the gridlock on South Eastern Avenue and how a high-speed train could fuel economic development

cmyk-snow-8674.jpgJacob Snow is not big on small talk. In fact, everything about his top-floor office at Henderson City Hall—from the painstakingly placed décor to his well-polished cuff links—screams, “Let’s get down to business.” Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the City of Henderson hired Snow as city manager in March, plucking him from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, the organization he helmed for 13 years.

And that no-nonsense demeanor may be just what Henderson needs, because it’s Snow’s job to tackle the tough issues haunting a town still hung over from lightning-speed population growth that lasted for more than a decade before the Great Recession hit. Among his first tasks was hiring a new police chief—Patrick Moers replaced Jutta Chambers, who retired in the wake of a scandal. But that was child’s play compared with Snow’s ongoing responsibility to balance a vastly depleted budget while opening new revenue streams (think: medical tourism).

What’s been the toughest challenge so far in your new job?

Trying to portray myself as an interesting person for the media! My wife already knows I’m dull as dirt, so trying to convince you [otherwise] is going to be impossible.

Actually, there are a number of [challenges]. We have more of our revenue going out to provide services than we have coming in. We have cut $130 million annually from our budget. We’ve had to lay people off, for the first time in anyone’s memory here, going from 2,000 employees to 1,700. We will continue to work with our union partners and with all the employees here to make it so that we solve that fundamental problem.

Much has been made in recent years about the redevelopment of downtown Las Vegas. What advantages does downtown Henderson have as it tries to revitalize?

Water Street] is a completely different environment with a completely different feel, and that’s by design. It’s much more like a Main Street of a smaller town. There are a lot of people who like the slower speed limit and pace [of Water Street], and the fact it’s pedestrian-friendly. It just doesn’t seem to be as congested as other places. Let me give you a specific: Downtown Henderson was designed for people; others are designed for cars. That’s the key distinction.

Is the city planning for the next burst of growth?

We are. One area we’re planning for that is in medical infrastructure. We hope, by the end of this year, to have an agreement announced for Union Village [a $1.5 billion project near U.S. 95 and Galleria Drive hailed as the world’s first integrated health village]. We think that will allow Southern Nevada to become a premier destination for medical services in the Southwest.

Henderson’s park system has consistently ranked among the nation’s best. Why are parks so important?

That was made a high priority by the mayor and [City] Council. … When you look at it as a Maslow hierarchy of needs, you need the government to provide those bottom levels: clean drinking water, sanitary conditions. The next level is a feeling of comfort, safety and security. … Above and beyond that, in the developed world, there are things that are important to us, that contribute to our quality of life and well-being. Parks and recreation centers do that. They give people a chance to get out of their homes and interact with others in a meaningful way, to appreciate the beauty of their natural surroundings.

We have a dozen or so parks that are still in the planning and design phase and will be built over the next two to three years. The council is [also] putting together a bicycle advisory committee. We’ve got some great parks out there, [and] we have a maturing and developing trail system, and we want to connect those two elements.

Traffic on Eastern Avenue from Interstate 215 to Anthem remains a nightmare. What can the city do to alleviate the congestion?

When I was at the RTC, we poured a lot of money and resources to improve that problem. We’re building connections around it. There’s not a lot else that can be done, unless you want to acquire a bunch of right of ways from a bunch of businesses.

It’s not so much a transportation problem as a land-use problem. When you have that many businesses in that kind of corridor and connect it with a freeway on one end and a massive planned community on the other—with one way in and one way out—you’re going to have problems. … We’re adding new routes into and out of Anthem so they can bypass that corridor.

What’s the path going forward for the RTC and for Southern Nevada transportation in general, and what’s your prediction for XPressWest, the proposed high-speed train between Las Vegas and Southern California?

The RTC has been fortunate to get Interstate 11 [a proposed direct interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix] designated from a federal level, and they need to follow that through, get it designed, get it planned, get it permitted and get it funded. The federal government is not going to pay for 90 percent of the cost, like they did for the rest of the interstate system.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with [XPressWest, because] I don’t know what’s going to happen with the high-speed train system for intrastate transportation within California. But it would be very, very valuable for Nevada to make a connection to that system in some way. For Henderson, it would create a whole new genre of tourism-related support and infrastructure. We are quickly establishing ourselves as the health corridor—look at what’s happening with the Siena campus for St. Rose [hospital] and what will happen, I think, with Union Village. The entire state is focused on medical tourism as a strategy for economic development. I see [high-speed rail] as a great opportunity for us to capitalize on.

In a thumb-wrestling match between you and Las Vegas City Manager Betsy Fretwell, who would win?

I have double-jointed thumbs. So, most everything else I would go head-to-head with Betsy Fretwell in, I would lose. But I would win a thumb-wrestling match.

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