Empty lots—presumably awaiting luxury developments—abound in downtown-adjacent Reno neighborhoods. Photo/David Robert

After 46 years, I’m leaving Reno, the city where I’ve spent two-thirds of my life. I’m moving primarily to live closer to my grandchildren, but I’ve also grown frustrated over the lack of a collective vision for Reno’s future that doesn’t feature hundreds of thousands of new residents supported by whatever the developers decide is best.

When I arrived as a fresh college graduate in 1977, it was a difficult adjustment after growing up on the central California coast and attending college at a liberal state school in Sonoma County. Reno was so conservative. The winters were so cold and snowy. The University of Nevada, Reno, offered me free graduate school in return for teaching entry-level Spanish, and I figured I’d get the master’s degree and then head back home.

But like so many California transplants, I settled in and found my people. I learned to ski and enjoyed walking through the silent streets after a big snowfall. In those years, it still seriously snowed all winter long in town. I discovered I didn’t want a career teaching Spanish and studying obscure medieval literature and eventually found fulfilling work in the nonprofit sector, starting the first Food Bank in Nevada. When my mentor, May Shelton, advised me to think about leading the Children’s Cabinet, a new public-private partnership focused on children and families, I said yes. Later, I moved to the district court to develop an array of specialty courts for defendants with behavioral health concerns.

In 1998, when no other Democrat was willing to run in a swing Assembly district representing what we now call Midtown, I said yes again, bolstered by my family, friends and colleagues who were eager for someone with a human-services background to serve alongside the lawyers, teachers and righteous “job creators.” I ended up serving 14 years in the Legislature with some of the smartest and best people I’ve ever known.

During these decades, Reno changed, of course. As a progressive, I embrace change that transforms lives in a positive way. Unfortunately, in recent years, and especially since the advent of Teslaville, I’ve watched Reno deteriorate. Despite innumerable attempts to “clean up” downtown, it’s still rather seedy and unattractive. Housing is unaffordable. Our parks and recreational amenities haven’t kept up with population growth. And the Spaghetti Bowl remains a nightmare.

Far too many local elected officials act like arrogant royalty, lashing out at the peasants who dare to question their actions. They’ve managed to destroy a section of our beautiful riverfront, despite widespread outrage from people who loved the big trees and undeniable charm of Riverside Drive. The City Council won’t allow accessory dwelling units on my street, where there’s an abundance of street parking, and lots are one-third of an acre, instead busily approving massive luxury apartment complexes and promoting an invisible business “district,” which consists mainly of empty lots.

And why, oh why, didn’t Reno use American Rescue Plan dollars to buy up and refurbish downtown motels for people in need of basic housing, as Clark County did? Sure, we have a massive shed jammed with cots; a new, small campground featuring individual pods; and plans for building on-site transitional housing at the Cares campus, but rehabbed motel space could have filled an ongoing, huge gap in housing for the most vulnerable. Instead, we are treated to a City Council that constantly bickers, conducts secret investigations, and engages in futile finger pointing.

There are many things I will miss about Reno, though. Listening to the hawks calling in the morning and the owls conversing at night in my quiet neighborhood just a mile from downtown. Stepping outside and breathing in the morning’s crisp, cool mountain air, even in the heat of summer. Inhaling the indescribable scent of the roses by my mailbox, no doubt planted by the same UNR botany professor who gave me black walnut trees, a Japanese horse chestnut, and one of Reno’s finest tulip magnolias.

I’ll miss my neighbors, my friends, my extended family and the people who repeatedly trusted me with their vote. I’ll miss the staff and readers of the Reno News & Review, many of whom have told me how much they’ve appreciated the views this column expresses.

Thanks for the memories, Reno. I hope your voters start electing leaders who value you more than the developers’ promises that never materialize. You deserve better.

Sheila Leslie is a semi-retired human services professional who has lived in Reno for 45-plus years. A native Californian, she graduated from Sonoma State University and holds a master’s degree in Spanish...

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  1. Totally understand and agree with you. Have lived here 40 years, not under the same intellectual circumstances, lol, but I have watched the instances you speak of. Disgusting. Good luck to you, and good for you. 🙏

  2. Very interesting. You professed to to a progressive, so in my mind you are part of the problem. You voted for this in the past so all of a sudden it has gotten out of hand you now you are leaving the mess you helped (thru your progressive voting) behind.

  3. Well written Ms. Leslie. I moved here from New Jersey in 1980 and feel the same about the changes that happed here. I left NJ to get away from the things that are now making the Reno area uncomfortable. You are correct when you wrote that back then, Reno was a nice, quiet, clean, and fun. In my opinion, it was due to the fact that is was Conservative. I see a direct correlation of the growth of “progressivism” and the downturn in the quality of life, increase in crime, traffic, taxes, cost of living, and divisive politics. I find it ironic that one of the reasons you are leaving the area is because the “elected officials don’t value it’s citizens more than the developers” when the Reno area and Nevada is now being run by the political party and “progressives” which you’ve been a part of for so many years. Good luck in your move and thank you for your government service.

  4. Sheila, we will miss your insightful, spot on commentary in each edition. Wishing you all the best in your life w/the “grands”. EnJoy!!

  5. Sheila, thank you for your many contributions to our community and state. Very few elected officials are selfless in their service once elected. You always were. I wish you the very best. Enjoy those grandchildren. You will be missed.

  6. Well I have to admit that I am a very conservative republican and may go against your grain politically but I moved to Nevada for many of the same reasons. I gave my children a 10 year lease on life and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I live in an outlying area so it is not yet effecting me directly but yes I see it. I understand what you said. You are correct. As for me I could never leave Nevada, this is my home and where my children are. I’ll just keep moving east…

  7. Sheila–what will we do without you?! It’s your service and progressive ideas that have made this town a good place to live. Thank you for your service–we appreciate you! (Where will you be moving?)

  8. It’s difficult to digests the Reno council members lack of transparency or respect for the values that made Reno a community one would want to raise children or run a small business or retire. Open outdoor space, views of the mountains knowing your local business owner. All the things that made us proud of our community Are becoming scarce. Letting outside developers do whatever pays the most. Never mind the half completed projects and promises not kept. Lack of planning for outdoor parks , roads or schools is a fault of the local government. These out of state developers do not care for Reno. Instead treat Reno as an LLC. Nor it seems does the elected city council members care. It’s time to take a closer look at your community city leaders as a whole and support the citizens who trusted you to do right by them not just enrich your bank accounts and popularity.

  9. I agree with Vi. YOU have been a big part of creating the problem you are now leaving the rest of us with. We won’t miss you.

  10. Hillary shieve and city council smiled with Jacobs entertainment as they demolished all the little hotels and motels downtown. And then promised all these people that they were going to be relocated and rehoused and they all were lied to and all mostly ended up homeless if they couldn’t get out of it and then they built a big shelter to put them all into. And they continue to do this demolish everything so they can build an apartment complex and collect rent from everybody and bring more crime and no real living real estate anymore we’re not building homes anymore we’re just building apartments so we can keep people renting forever with the highest rents in the country now that we’re pushing. In a place that’s not worth the price at all. Reno city council all needs to be fired beginning with Hillary receive and impeached.

  11. Sheila, years ago you helped me and ever since I’ve come to realize you’re just full of common sense that help a mass amount of people. I wish you had been successful at a larger office but I feel honored to have had such a fighter in this community. I shudder to imagine if you hadn’t been there. This town would’ve been lame as f.

    My way of saying thank you! 💜. Enjoy the rest of your earthly adventures!

  12. I saw the wiring on the wall so to speak. On the 4th of July in 1992. My wife and I investigated Boise Idaho area, because Bill Harrah had a vacation lodge in Idaho, and I understood it to be “redneck country “lol. We got to Boise and decided “ this is too big, around 75,000 people. (It’s more than doubled since) get out the map and let’s look around”. We drove north, 90 miles and ended up in “Gods country”, Cascade, Donnelly and McCall area. We spent the weekend salivating 🙂 🙂 and moved to McCall area two months later.
    We bought an RV for our temporary dwelling once we got there.
    As a carpenter, I had come home from the store to find out my wife had been shot and in the hospital. Three others was intentionally murdered and two others badly wounded. We was staying at the RV lot about a half mile north west of the Bonanza Casino. The killer and I had a disagreement a couple months earlier when I asked him to turn down the music mid week at 2 AM. He left a suicide note, taking his own life. The story is archived in the Reno percent if anyone wants to visit it for details, etc.
    My youngest daughter has a vacation home here in Donnelly also and plans to retire here for obvious reasons… to be polite, because Reno was turning into an ‘outhouse’ and the latrine has only gotten bigger.

  13. Just a month ago I left Nevada for good, also, after three in a row heartbreaking “cultural” experiences. It’s never been the same since you were no longer my Assemblywoman, though, Sheila. Bless you and your family for all the brilliant, progressive work you’ve done. May the next generation pick up the ball and run with it.

  14. You are deeply appreciated for the decades of selfless efforts you devoted to the Truckee Meadows community. Your letter saying goodbye was so poignant, and sadly you are right that Reno is not growing in a good direction. You have my profound thanks for the many years you spent loving the Reno area with your years of service. We love you!

  15. Sheila, when you come back and see us in 10 yrs. I bet the “Neon District” will still be a bunch of empty lots.

  16. Ohboy, will I ever miss you. You have steadfastly aimed for better city planning, better answers for homelessness, and, in the long run, better laws and policies for our wonderful state. And with all that urgency, I’ve only seen honesty and fearlessness. There is noone else like you. There is also nothing that can beat family, and aren’t those Las Vegas grandchildren lucky!

  17. Sheila, I am wishing you well as you move on to be with the grandkiddies, and other loved ones. Geographically, nowhere is perfect, but what you’re truly seeking can be found deep within your heart…………, and you will find it! Always hold on to the restless urge that will be forever present to seek happiness, connection, and love. Simply put, it’s all that’s really needed.

  18. I have lived here my entire adult life and am honestly terrified that this town will end up killing my 14 year old daughter! This place used to be safe! It used to be good! This town has grown overpriced and it makes me sick to see homeless people on every corner! I have gone from paying a 1000 a month mortgage to a 3300 a month mortgage only to have 700 more square feet! I graduated from college here and yet there are no jobs! This place is hell on earth and you are smart to get the heck out of here!

  19. As a 50+ year resident of Reno my heart aches for what we lost. The greedy madness of some “city leaders” and developers has ruined the very best of a neighborly and beautiful place. It is so sad that our grandkids will not experience Reno as it was and should be. Thanks, Sheila, for telling it like it is.

  20. Oh, I am going to miss reading your writing. And I couldn’t agree with you more regarding Reno changes. It is a “company” town now. It is so sad. Best of luck!

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