The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Best and Worst of 2005
Lord knows we all love a good story, and Albuquerque is full of them. From political skullduggery to progressive development to social activism and poetic glory, we're up to our elbows in tantalizing tales. If you haven't been paying attention, or if your memory's starting to go with age, don't fear: the Best and Worst of 2005 is here.
So hold on to your socks (or argyles, as the case may be), the Alibi is taking you, our dear readers, on a whirlwind tour of the most dastardly deeds and heroic doings of the year. It ain't always pretty, but it is always exciting. See you on the other side of 2006, where the odyssey begins anew.
Albuquerque Museum Expansion
A world-class city demands world-class museums. Albuquerque isn't quite a world-class city, and it doesn't quite have world-class museums, but it certainly took a huge leap in the right direction this year with the opening of the vastly expanded Albuquerque Museum. For a city this size, we should be proud to have this new facility, which includes an 8,000-square-foot exhibit space, a giant entry hall, a special events hall, an expanded sculpture garden, and a new café and gallery store. Kicking off the grand opening was a trio of exhibits examining the history of Spanish art. These impressive shows were designed to coincide with Albuquerque's Tricentennial celebrations. The last of the bunch, Picasso to Plensa, opened earlier this month. For a review, see this week's art section.
With tons of dedicated people working together to better our local watering hole and surrounding ecosystem, and continuous funding from the federal and state governments, plus monetary dedication from the mayor's office, the Rio Grande Bosque in Bernalillo County is looking pretty good. Non-native species are being eliminated faster than you can say “invasive,” and the area no longer poses a giant fire hazard like it did a mere two years ago, when flames tore through it. And with funding to continue restoration more or less secure, the Bosque should continue to improve in the coming years. Too bad the poor, contaminated river still sometimes looks like a series of puddles.
The Alibi unabashedly loves Eric Griego, which is why we endorsed him for mayor in this year's municipal election and why he's now one of our contributing writers. But the Alibi is also pretty open in our adoration of Brad Winter, who stepped up to the plate this year when he threw his hat into the mayoral race. He added a desperately needed moderate voice to a race that desperately needed another candidate. The never-disappointing conciliator and councilman came through, and put himself through all the scrutiny and bellyaches that an election can offer. He didn't get the votes for mayor, but he gets our vote for one of the best of the year. Thanks, Brad.
Campaign Finance Reform Initiative
One of the few bright spots in the 2005 municipal election was the passage of a campaign finance reform initiative, which voters overwhelmingly supported on Oct. 4. The initiative creates a clever, elegant scheme for providing funds to candidates who, although they might not have a direct line to big-money contributors, have proven they have broad bases of support among ordinary voters in the community. The initiative doesn't fix the politics-as-usual pattern of modern American elections, in which those with the most corporate support almost automatically get the most votes. It does, however, take a significant step toward leveling an alarmingly unlevel playing field.
Clean Energy Initiatives
Thank heavens—the state is actually paying attention to renewable energy. In a time when gas prices are skyrocketing and oil reserves plummeting, New Mexico, one of the best places on the globe to harvest renewables, needs to do all it can to boost the clean energy industry. This year, we made a few leaps and a couple of bounds toward this goal. It all started with Gov. Bill Richardson's six clean energy task forces, which were given the mission to brainstorm renewable energy policies and incentives. The elite team came up with a Clean Energy Package that went to the Roundhouse this spring, and most of its items fared quite well, including:
1. An upgrade to $3 million for Clean Energy Grants, which fund clean energy projects throughout the state that are proposed by public entities.
2. The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Bonding Act, which allows the state to sell bonds to state, tribal and public school facilities for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades.
3. The Efficient Use of Energy Act, which requires electric and gas utilities to implement cost-effective energy efficiency programs.
4. Natural Resource Conservation Bids, which makes it easier for public entities to upgrade the energy efficiency of their buildings by lessening the requirements needed for contractors to enter into contracts with state agencies for energy efficiency upgrades.
Not all items in the package made it through the Legislative session this year, such as solar tax credits and net metering incentives, but they're expected to make an appearance in the next one.
Just a few years ago, East Downtown (EDo) was one of the seediest areas in Albuquerque. Now, the Huning-Highland Historic District and EDo are going through a makeover. Dilapidated buildings and motels are on their way out; renovations, lofts, shopping, new restaurants and even a grocery store are on their way in. This urban infill revitalization effort represents a move away from the post-WWII migration to suburbia, and a move toward sustainable living. The Sierra Club even recently awarded the Albuquerque High Loft development project as one of the best in the country.
Gaslite Motel Demolition
The Gaslite Motel has finally been put to rest. The once thriving Route-66 motel turned haven for prostitutes, pimps and drug addicts was demolished in November after nearly four years of waiting. The motel was slated for demolition in 2001 after violating over 300 health codes, but the knock-down date was pushed back after the discovery of asbestos in the roof and ceiling, and the building continued to rot on Central for four more years. The Gaslite was one of 42 motels targeted for demolition or condemnation by Albuquerque's Safe City Strike Force using the nuisance abatement ordinance. While the Gaslite's demolition was unquestionably needed, it raises questions of where the vagrants that frequented its decaying rooms are going to go now.
National Poetry Slam 2005
For four days in September, the city was transformed into a palace of competitive verse as poets from all over the continent, and even a few from Europe, descended on Albuquerque to take part in the greatest spoken word circus on Earth. It was enlightening. It was raucous. It was a chance to see the finest word-spitters on the planet duke it out, mano a mano, on stage. Of course, the icing on the cake was seeing our homegrown Albuquerque team take the title in front of the 2,300-person audience at the Kiva Auditorium. Even without that sweet victory, this was a moment that made our humble city proud.
Finally, we're moving into the 21st century. The commuter rail, which should be running early into 2006, is one of the best things our region could do for itself. Running from Belen to Bernalillo, it will provide a cheaper and more sustainable transportation option for the over 30,000 commuters that pass between Albuquerque and Sandoval County and the 16,000 that come to and from our city from Valencia County every day. Relieving traffic congestion, lowering pollution, saving money on gas and car maintenance, and creating a more community-based mode of transit are all advantages of the new system, which could be the first step in moving Albuquerque (and the state) away from our inherently car-based culture. Stay current on updates by visiting nmrailrunner.com.
Our new rapid transit bus system hit the streets early this year, and was embraced with all the eager expectation of a city of five-year-olds waiting for Xmas morning. After a few trial months, we are, for the most part, almost satisfied, but left wanting a little more. The buses got off to an uneasy start with ridership, but are now pretty full most of the time. The city's Rapid After Dark (RAD) program over the summer was a success, with many Downtown and Nob Hill patrons taking advantage of the buses' services until 3 a.m. on the weekends. Rapid Ride is the first step in taking our city out of the transportation Dark Age of single-occupancy autos and into the Golden Age of light rail. It isn't, however, without its critics. Some complain that the buses are too big, too loud, too inefficient and too much a waste of taxpayer dollars. Others, however, say you can't put a price tag on trying to move our city into the future. The end result: We've got ourselves a pretty good bus system that still has a few kinks; and for its first year of service, that's not too shabby. Now we just need to expand it to other areas of the city (Westside, anyone?).
This nicely packaged propaganda campaign was designed to keep kids safe, right? Or was it just pandering to the public in an election year? Considering the statewide Alcohol and Gaming Division ban, supported by Gov. Bill Richardson, would only affect a few small venues in Albuquerque bars with good records on discouraging underage drinking, we think it's either the latter or plain ol' small-mindedness.
APD Evidence Room
The Albuquerque Police Department Evidence Room investigation was like an episode of Dragnet; except no one went to jail. The results of the second investigation were finally released in August, proving mismanagement and the theft of money to the tune of $58,000. The investigations also showed that there was no cover-up, no dastardly plot by then-Chief Gilbert Gallegos to keep himself out of trouble, and no one to prosecute. Attorney General Patricia Madrid's report said that the lack of hard evidence left "prosecution virtually impossible." It seems the mismanagement allowed the civilian employees accused of the theft to remain in their posts for months, giving them the opportunity to make important documents and evidence disappear in addition to the money and jewelry already missing. The fact that evidence was stolen is bad enough, but the fact that they got away with it, without any cover-up, for three years before any investigation was conducted is hair raising. APD is now requiring a polygraph test by all civilian evidence room employees to help detect dishonesty among many changes made to up the security level.
City Animal Shelters
The golden rule is that you should do unto others as you would have them do to you. It's also been said that you can tell a person's character by how they treat their pets. If those two idioms are true, then we've got ourselves a city of masochistic a-holes. C'mon Albuquerque, we know it ain't true—so why don't you start taking better care of your pets? It would make things a whole lot easier for workers in our city who certainly don't want to see more than 16,000 animals get put to sleep every year under their watch. And it would most definitely be better for the fuzzy critters who so often get callously discarded at the city's front door. We can bitch and moan about the practices at our city's two animal shelters—their inhumane euthanizing procedures, their lack of involvement in adoptions (failing to even give most potential pet owners an interview) and their bad bedside manner—but when it comes down to it, things wouldn't be so bad in the shelters if we, as a city, took better care of those who depend on us. So, yeah, the shelters don't have enough volunteers or employees to do all that they should in the way that they should. And, yeah, we need to do something about it. We can change policy, but we've also got to change ourselves.
The municipal election held on Oct. 4 was an important one. With a heated mayoral race, several crucial City Council contests and a handful of significant ballot initiatives, Albuquerque voters should have turned out in droves. They didn't. Appalling citywide apathy resulted in only 31 percent of registered voters making their way to the polls. Under the rules of engagement, incumbent Martin Chavez won the mayor's race fair and square with a well-financed campaign garnering 47 percent of the vote, enough to prevent a runoff with second-place finisher Eric Griego. Certainly, those who showed up to cast a ballot were passionate about their choices. But what's up with the rest of you losers? Pathetic, seriously. Here's hoping voters will feel a little more engaged for the Nov. 2006 elections. A democracy where people just don't give a crap isn't a democracy: It's a de facto oligarchy.
The crafters of the ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage in Albuquerque to $7.50 per hour for regular employees and $4.50 per hour for tipped employees have admitted that the proposal was poorly drafted. A clause designed to alert employees about their rights was exploited by the opposition and eventually led to the initiative's narrow defeat on Oct. 4. This might not have been the ideal ordinance, but there can be no doubt that the minimum wage needs to be raised. Certainly, the federal Congress, which gives itself regular “cost-of-living” salary increases, can't be counted on to do the right thing. Consequently, local governments need to step up and protect the working poor. Thankfully, although the measure failed at the municipal level, there's still a chance that Gov. Bill Richardson will be able to push reform through the State Legislature.
This late-night move earned our mayor the moniker “Midnight Marty” (whew, say that five times fast). Our beef with the Montaño restriping isn't so much that something was done (surely, traffic congestion on that road during rush hour was enough to give any commuter or area resident nightmares), but rather, with the way it was done. Montaño's been a controversial road for decades, with neighbors fighting bridges, side roads and anything else you can think of all the way through. Deciding the redesign for this road wasn't just about cars and stoplights, it was about the character of the community. And, to boot, traffic studies have shown that the road's new look (four general-purpose lanes instead of two) doesn't really do anything to ease congestion, anyway, since the intersections along the corridor aren't equipped to handle the cars the extra lanes will allow for. Now, residents just have a couple extra lanes to cross, and an even less walkable road.
More than 15,000 petroglyphs exist within the Petroglyph National Monument. These ancient pieces of rock art are considered sacred by local Pueblo tribes. The plan to extend Paseo del Norte through this monument is the equivalent of running a highway through the Vatican. To be frank, it's an embarrassment to our city. Yes, the city plans to move several of the rocks from the path of the highway, but this plan itself reflects the appalling cultural ignorance of our political leaders. The petroglyphs—as sacred symbols, as portals to the spirit world—are intimately aligned with place. In other words, to move them is to destroy them. New Mexico's Cultural Properties Review Commission recently granted the city permission to begin moving the rocks as early as Dec. 21. After a long, hard fight, it looks like this is going to happen. It's tragic that Albuquerque has chosen to spit on Native American culture, here in New Mexico, of all places, where Native American culture has given and continues to give us so much.
State Treasury Scandal
Louisiana's usually granted the dubious honor of No. 1 State to Find Slippery Politics, but this year, New Mexico swooped in and stole the title. And it's all thanks to the now former State Treasurer Robert Vigil, who in September, along with his predecessor Michael Montoya, was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury. The treasurers were charged with extortion, with prosecutors claiming the two demanded kickbacks in exchange for state investment contracts. Montoya has pleaded guilty to one count of extortion and Vigil has pleaded not guilty to 26 counts of extortion, money laundering and conspiracy. The state now has new people handling our over $4 billion treasury.
Kudos to Westside developers for creating our city's future slums: poorly built plywood homes stacked on top of one another in neighborhoods devoid of any distinguishable characteristics, not to mention grocery stores and other vital infrastructure such as roads and schools. Also, we would like to thank these developers for allowing us taxpayers around the state to fund your projects by paying for the new roads and schools that are necessary to support the crappy neighborhoods you just created. Here's a big hug from us to you.
Westland Development's Proposal to Sell
The saga surrounding Westland Development, Inc. earns two awards this year: a shiny gold medallion for some of the finest displays of community activism our city has seen in a fair number of years; and a big chunk of Christmas coal for the company's board of directors, who have chosen so nonchalantly to try to go under the radar with pawning off their people's birthright. Westland Development, incorporated in 1967 from the Atrisco Land Grant, has been a perpetually disappointing governing force for its stockholders (i.e. Atrisco heirs). The company was established so the Atrisco people could purge themselves of sloppy, near-criminal management and finally engage in smart business practices and development so heirs could benefit from the land passed down to them from their ancestors. But instead, the board has chosen to remain relatively stagnant; that is, when they're not selling land (such as the southern tip of the Petroglyphs) against the will of their people, while still managing to provide nearly nonexistent returns to their stockholders. Now, they're trying to sell the whole cake and eat it, too, taking home over $26 million between the nine of them if the sale goes through.
On the other end of the stick, a group of Atrisco heirs are fighting back with organized precision. Doing much more than simply complaining about the board's underhanded moves, they've crafted a plan to regain their land, and we hope it works. If it does, the 57,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land on the Westside may end up home to more than tacky suburban sprawl—it may actually become a sustainable city that can, for once, give back to the people all that they deserve.