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News/Opinion
‹‹ V.16 No.46 | November 15 - 21, 2007

Council Watch

Polishing the Jewels

By Laura Sanchez

While councilors lit no bonfires to mark their Nov. 5 Guy Fawkes Day meeting, they protected the crown jewels and added another one to the treasure chest.

Councilors approved using state funds of almost $1.4 million to buy and renovate the property on Lomas housing the National Institute of Flamenco. The city will lease the building to the Institute. They also approved a new five-year contract for operation of the ¡explora! Science Center and Children's Museum.

Councilor Martin Heinrich's bill designating one city block in the South San Pedro neighborhood as a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area passed unanimously, clearing the way for an influx of homes and businesses.

Councilor Ken Sanchez postponed his bill requiring rowdy party throwers to pay the cops for showing up. Bills to lower red-light camera fines and reauthorize money for animal services were introduced.

Send your comments about the City Council to laura@alibi.com.

Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Making Sausage the Slow Way

The city's Office of Neighborhood Coordination has no responsibility to notify neighborhood groups and individuals of pending zone changes nearby. It simply supplies a list of recognized neighborhood associations in the area to developers or other entities requesting the change. Councilor Michael Cadigan sponsored a bill requiring notice also be given to various non-recognized groups, including homeowners associations.
The bill triggered opposition from recognized neighborhood associations who feared their influence would be diluted. Heinrich said it was a councilor's responsibility to know who really represented district neighborhoods. Cadigan said, "All we're looking for is the legal right to get notice." Councilor Isaac Benton feared "opening ourselves up to any five people who call themselves a neighborhood association." The bill passed 6-3, Councilors Sanchez, Benton and Brad Winter opposed. Neighborhood associations have become a vital, critical component in city governance and a necessary balance. But it's hard to see a justification for not notifying other groups about pending zone changes. The neighborhood association scenario--evil developer quietly puts project in place, sets up a ringer group to show up at Council meetings supporting the project--ignores the reality that those who will profit from a zone change show up anyway.
Pony Up to Tee Up

Mike Daniels, chair of the Golf Advisory Board, said the city's courses are in dismal shape and getting worse. While the courses are expected to pay for themselves, they are losing money and unable to pay for proper soil treatment or repair and replacement of equipment. Council President Debbie O'Malley spoke of touring one course and seeing a dozen dissected lawn mowers, cannibalized by workers for parts to get just one mower working. Sanchez sponsored an administration bill raising green fees by about two dollars.
The administration bill added a further fee increase for out-of-state golfers. Councilor Sally Mayer proposed an amendment dropping the higher out-of-state fees as an unfriendly message to tourists. The amendment passed. Cadigan proposed trying other remedies before closing courses or raising fees: lowering overhead charged by the city, upping fees paid by concessionaires and using capital funds. The fee increase passed 6-3, Winter, Cadigan and Harris opposed. Several speakers mentioned that city golf course rates, even with the increase, are considerably below rates at local casino courses and other regional cities such as Phoenix, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Nev. As Cadigan mentioned, the main reason city courses are losing money is competition with casino golf courses with basically free water and gambling revenues to fund them. There's no way the city can compete, so raising rates is a delicate balancing act when about all the city courses have going for them is lower rates.
Railyard Revival

Benton sponsored a bill authorizing purchase of the Railyard property in the Barelas neighborhood. To exercise the option before the Dec. 28 deadline, the bill adds up to $3 million in Workforce Housing Trust money to a $6 million mix of grant funds, general funds, state funds and money from the Wheels Museum organization. There is no master plan for the 27-acre site, but the bill requires at least 30 units of workforce housing.
Barelas residents strongly supported the bill while insisting on neighborhood participation in planning. The president of the Wheels Museum said the huge building once used to work on steam locomotives was the last one in the country. Benton noted that the almost 100-year-old building was "built like a battleship." Cadigan noted that the property figured in one of Rudolfo Anaya's novels but wanted assurance the city would not end up running the museum. The bill passed unanimously. The city would be shortsighted to lose this prime, historic site adjacent to Downtown. It's the missing piece in redevelopment efforts from Interstate 25 to the Rio Grande, Mountain to Bridge. The magnificent, melancholy workshop buildings can be renovated for a fraction of the cost to build comparable spaces. It's tempting to envision something like the Granville Island area of Vancouver, B.C., an old warehouse district converted into a prime tourist attraction, but with more housing and fewer trinket shops.