In Reno, a Piece of the Action

Stanford Archives

Stanford already fights with Santa Clara County over land use. Now there's Reno, Nev., to contend with. In February, news broke that the University may be the rightful owner of one-quarter of the gambling mecca's downtown streets. According to acting University counsel Debra Zumwalt, JD '79, "We were not aware of it at all."

The surprise hit when Stanford was named a "necessary party" in a dispute between a group of casinos and Reno's city hall. The casinos challenged the city's right to charge rent for skywalks built over downtown streets. When city lawyers searched land titles, they had a shock. The "Big Four" railroad barons -- Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins -- who collectively owned downtown Reno in the 19th century did dispose of land lots 130 years ago, but they never specifically sold the streets. Reno wanted the Big Four heirs (UC's stake is 50 percent and Stanford's 25 percent) to give up any claims. Instead, the universities hired a lawyer to defend their interests.

The matter now rests with a district court judge. "We have a good claim," says Zumwalt, who expects a decision soon. If Stanford wins, she says, "we would work with the city of Reno" to arrive at a suitable settlement. Until then, all bets are off.