Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Archive for the ‘Recent articles published’ Category

Which CG will it be?

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Las Vegas City Hall in downtown Las Vegas

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I predict the next mayor of Las Vegas will be a blond female between the ages of 40 and 80 with the initials CG. She will have extensive experience in education, upon which she has based promises to improve education in the city during her term – promises that will go largely unfilled, due to the fact the cash-strapped county and state have jurisdiction in this area. She will, as she has put it, “continue the current mayor’s development of Downtown” – much to the chagrin of Summerlin, which, despite not really needing it, would also love for the city to offer companies like Zappos millions of dollars in incentives to move to its  neighborhoods. Beyond that, I can only say for certain that the next mayor will become best buddies with Las Vegas City Manager Elizabeth “Betsy” Fretwell, who actually does all the hard work (and does a bang-up job of it, according to everyone I asked).

Any further predictions will depend on Las Vegans. Do we prefer the status quo, or are we in the mood for a changing of the guard?

That I can’t predict. To read what I know for sure about the next mayor’s job, check out my article in this week’s Las Vegas City Life.

Written by Heidi Kyser

June 2, 2011 at 9:26 am

Who’s Your Best Friend?

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Cat gassed down/masked down with anesthesia fo...

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A flyer in the lobby of Warm Springs Animal Hospital, where I took my dog Aja to see her vet this morning, reminded me of the recent feature I wrote on Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for Desert Companion.

The flyer wasn’t about Best Friends, though. It was about The Animal Foundation, which was also mentioned in my story. I recalled the 2007 disease outbreak at Lied Animal Shelter, which the foundation operates, as part of the backdrop against which Best Friends began reducing its mobile adoptions from its Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, to Las Vegas. I also cited Clark County Animal Control statistics on animals impounded and euthanized at Lied as evidence that Best Friends’ help is clearly needed in our area.

The flyer I picked up this morning was a stark reminder of how dire the pet overpopulation problem in the Las Vegas Valley has become. The flyer gives the following data (which is not sourced, but presumably comes from The Animal Foundation itself):

  • The foundation receives 50,000-plus animals each year.
  • In 2009, it took in 2,000 more dogs and cats than Animal Care and Control of New York City.
  • It takes in 136 animals daily, on average.
  • Only 13 percent of animals placed in Las Vegas homes come from shelters or rescues; 9 percent come from the foundation.
  • The foundation performs 8,000 spay or neuter procedures annually.

According to the flyer, the number of spay and neuter operations will rise by 4,000 annually starting this year, due to the opening of a new public spay and neuter clinic.

Although the animal welfare world is divided on the best cure for pet overpopulation, at least one person I interviewed for the story thinks spay and neuter laws are the answer. Holly Stoberski, who was on Clark County’s Animal Advisory Committee through 2010 and is on the board of local Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, told me that she believes ordinances such as Las Vegas’ Code 7.14, adopted in 2009, will help reduce the number of unwanted pets in the valley.

As with so many well-intentioned laws and services, the success of 7.14 and Lied’s clinic will depend on enforcement and marketing, respectively. If my neighborhood is any indication of citywide norms, Las Vegans think it’s perfectly acceptable to let their unaltered dogs roam the streets with no identification. Placing flyers in veterinary clinics is preaching to the choir; let’s hope The Animal Foundation is doing much more to get its message to those who are filling its intake rooms with 136 animals per day.

Written by Heidi Kyser

May 23, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Homeowners vs. neighborhoods

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I discovered something curious while working on The little ‘hood that could (Desert Companion, March 2011): the vexed distinction between neighborhood associations and homeowners associations. It wasn’t central to the point of the story – that any neighborhood can benefit from banding together if it’s willing to put in the effort required – yet, erroneous confusion between the two different types of organization may prevent some people from getting in on the action.

The distinction is alluded to in the story, when City of Las Vegas neighborhood planner Yorgo Kagafas says, “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I don’t want my neighbors telling me what color to paint my house,’ but that’s not what neighborhood associations do. They don’t have the power to make rules, only to enforce what the city adopts.”

Who does tell you what color to paint your house? Homeowners associations.

While the two types of group manifest in myriad forms, depending on the circumstances in each case, there are some common, general differences between homeowners and neighborhood associations: Homeowners associations are usually mandatory, dues-gathering groups of residents in a designated area that have the authority to impose and enforce rules related to design and maintenance of that area; neighborhood associations are usually voluntary groups, open to residents in a designated area, that can only enforce (or request enforcement of) public laws governing that area.

So, a homeowners association will collect dues that help pay gardeners who trim your hedges to a mandated height. A neighborhood association will organize a crime watch and call law enforcement to report suspicious activity.

Another way of looking at it would be to say that homeowners associations are profit-oriented, while neighborhood associations are community-oriented. The former focuses on property values in order to protect the owners’ investment. The latter focuses on quality of life; property values are one of its indicators, along with crime rates, owner-occupancy and anything else residents deem important.

People who have a knee-jerk reaction against neighborhood associations should consider this distinction. Although your neighborhood association may take some action you disagree with, such as seeking historical status, it can’t make or enforce any rules that aren’t already on the books. It’s also an open forum, where you are free to express your opinion, providing you’re a resident.

And that’s the democratic process at work, isn’t it?

It’s the climate, stupid

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Something from my reporting on It’s Getting Hot In Here: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World (Desert Companion, Feb. 2011) kept nagging at me after the story was done.

I had to ask Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, how she would respond to those who don’t believe in climate change or its human-based causes to begin with – considering the report treats them as a given.

I felt stupid, maybe a hint of what a journalist would feel like asking the president of the Anti-Defamation League how he would respond to those who don’t believe in the Holocaust.

Her initial response was something like gasp-meets-laugh. Then, with a sigh, she launched into her I’m-sure-oft-repeated summary of the science on climate change. I pictured a thought bubble above her head reading, “Really, I have to go through this again? REALLY???” – undoubtedly from my own bias more than her attitude.

Asking the question at all wasn’t just an attempt at balanced reporting, but also a result of the immediate culture in which I live. Nevada residents regularly comment on environmental stories in the local press with wingnut talking points about climate change science. (Here‘s a recent example from the Las Vegas Sun‘s letters to the editor.) I have to take into account the beliefs of all my readers, regardless of my own convictions.

The really interesting part, though, came when Huta discussed the coalition’s Ten Things You Can Do To Help Imperiled Wildlife Survive Climate Change. She translated these 10 things into a local lexicon that transcends political and religious beliefs, focusing on fire prevention, water conservation and dust reduction as ways to preserve our desert landscapes.

Now that is something outdoorsy Nevadans can relate to, regardless of their stance on climate change. Whether campers and rock climbers, or hunters and ranchers, the people I’ve met and interviewed over the years who respect and rely on nature understand the interdependency of an ecosystem’s various elements (not including ATVers; I don’t know any of them). No reasonable individual wants to jeopardize the big picture for the sake of one activity or revenue stream.

If we start from that common ground, maybe we can agree on what we need to do to prevent further damage – even if we can’t agree on what caused it, god, man or Mother Nature.

Blvds Spotlight Is a Timely Reminder

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Kim Schaefer, managing editor of Blvds Las Vegas Magazine, gave me the honor of writing the Spotlight for the current issue.

Blvds LV Dec.-Jan. issue

I wouldn’t normally say getting an assignment is an honor. Not only is it simply my job (an equivalent would be a plumber saying it’s an honor to fix your leaky faucet), but also profiles are not the part of my job that I love best. They seem at the same time too easy and too difficult — too easy because they’re usually about one well-known overachiever on whom there is a wealth of readily available information; too difficult because it’s hard to tell a successful person’s story without falling into sycophancy.

But this was profile was exceptional. I’ll leave it to you to read the article and determine whether you agree and why.

In the meantime, I’ll say that speaking to the subject, Shannon West, came at an opportune time for me. A New Year was approaching, ending one fraught with challenges for my family and community. On top of all the usual stock-taking and resolve-making that Jan. 1 provokes, I was weighing serious questions about my own future. Against that backdrop, West offered  a poignant reminder of what gives life meaning.

This, of course, is different for everyone. I identified with West in that her work and relationships apparently define her. (A point driven home by her saying she’d resolved not to let her cancer define her.) Like her, I don’t place a high value on material possessions or praise; making a measurable positive difference in people’s lives through my actions is how I score personal points.

I’ve spent the first few work days of the New Year at my desk, plowing toward that goal, setbacks and side-tracks be damned. It helps me to think of Shannon West, and some things she said in our interview.

I believe it would also help our neighborhoods, city and state to focus this year on what defines us, or what should. After all, we’re fighting for our survival too, aren’t we?

Written by Heidi Kyser

January 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Nevada Ballet Theater Gets Graceful Gregory

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When Desert Companion editor Andrew Kiraly asked me to find out why Cynthia Gregory was such a great get for the Nevada Ballet Theater, I figured the answer would have something to do with her high-powered fundraising skills. Come to find out, it has a lot more to do with her high-powered legs and the roles they landed her in over the course of her three-decades-long career working with virtually every big name in ballet. Read more about that here.

The addition of Gregory to the Nevada Ballet Theater as artistic advisor and coach is a rich treat in an otherwise Spartan landscape, not just the Las Vegas dance scene, but the arts here in general.

In my interview with James Canfield, Nevada Ballet Theater’s artistic director, he talked about the austerity measures taken over the last two years to keep the company healthy. (See Kristen Peterson’s March 2009 article in the Las Vegas Sun about revenue declines, and resulting layoffs and show cancellations.)

Although it wasn’t easy to make cutbacks, Canfield told me, he believes it laid the groundwork for Nevada Ballet Theater to make a leap as soon as the economy allows for more business and consumer spending on the arts. Ten trainees have joined the company, and steps like adding Gregory as coach will help ensure a strong future pool of talented dancers who understand the company culture, Canfield hopes.

In the meantime, everyone I talked to who has met or worked with Gregory is pulling for her to pull off her (and Nevada Ballet Theater CEO Beth Barbre’s) dream of cultivating a coaching center that draws top-notch dancers from far and wide in search of one-on-one training with a master.

If it works, it won’t just be boon for the Nevada Ballet Theater. Las Vegas will get a much-needed boost in its arts cred, and Gregory will get to stop roaming the world as a means of passing on her canonical knowledge of classical ballet – doing it instead right here at home.

Could be a good get all around.

Written by Heidi Kyser

December 10, 2010 at 9:00 am

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