By Jim Scarantino
We should all be thankful the New Mexico Legislature doesn't meet for more than 60 days every other year. Take a look at House bill (HB) 805 and imagine if these guys were still up there screwing around.
This bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Democrats Dan Silva and Henry "Kiki" Saavedra and Republican Greg Payne, all from Albuquerque. It would have overruled Albuquerque's Planned Growth Strategy and struck down the city's carefully crafted impact fee structure.
The Planned Growth Strategy was passed by the City Council by a 7-2 vote, or super majority, back in October 2003. The city basically wanted developers to shoulder the actual costs of new development. Greg Payne, then a City Councilor, supported the bill. Just a few months ago in these very pages in his "Payne's World" column he praised the program.
The Legislature convened and suddenly Payne, as a newly elected state representative, was of a different mind. He joined Silva and Saavedra in trying to roll Albuquerque's city government and reverse years of hard work.
Payne's turnaround is especially curious. For decades, his Northeast Heights constituents have been subsidizing Westside developments that don't pay their own way. His neighborhoods supported the impact fees. They get it. Payne doesn't, or he's found another source of inspiration.
Multiple sources have confirmed that Payne offered to "help" the city derail HB 805 if, in exchange, the City Council granted him favorable treatment, by way of annexation of land that would have placed a housing development on the Southwest Mesa within city limits. Why Payne was looking out for the interests of a real estate developer far from his district is anyone's guess. Nonetheless, Payne contacted more than one city councilor with his offer. Payne, when questioned by e-mail, categorically denies this ever happened, although one city councilor said this denial was shocking, considering Payne was "very public" about his proposition.
During the legislative session, Payne promised City Council President Brad Winter and Westside Neighborhood Coalition president Dr. Joe Valles that he would pull his support for HB 805, then took to the House floor to argue for its passage.
The motivation of Representatives Silva and Saavedra is easier to understand. Westland Corporation, a huge landholder and developer on the Southwest Mesa, enjoys taxpayer subsidies and understandably might not like the idea of paying impact fees to the city for sewer, roads and other infrastructure, when the old system was so generous to them. It turned its lobbyists loose to undo the city's impact fees. Those lobbyists were none other than Domonic Ray Silva and Randy L. Saavedra—that's right, the legislators' sons.
Westland lobbyists were the largest source of funds to the campaigns of Reps. Silva and Saavedra, according to the public filings posted on the secretary of state's website. Westland gave over $5,500, even though Saavedra was unopposed and Silva's opponent was so impotent she didn't meet minimum requirements for campaign finance filing. Domonic Silva had two other clients also backing HB 805, who likewise shared a few spare dollars with key legislators.
Westland lobbyists were also among the top contributors to Greg Payne, whose Northeast Heights district is nowhere near Westland's holdings. Barbara Page, Westland's president, was among his largest campaign contributors.
The Westside Coalition of Neighborhoods and every neighborhood coalition in the Northeast Heights, Southwest Mesa and in the Valley opposed HB 805. But Reps Silva and Saavedra seem to live by the motto that blood is thicker than water. What their sons' clients wanted seemed to be more important to them than what constituents think is right for their own lives.
Neighborhood leaders got only incomprehensible speeches about "equity," "fairness" and "mi gente." If anyone was being unfair to la gente, it was Silva and Saavedra, who were sabotaging the only mechanism to finally give the Westside an equitable level of infrastructure to match its dramatic growth.
Payne in his floor speech actually argued that depriving Albuquerque of the ability to determine its future "would strengthen local control." Republican House Leader Ted Hobbs first criticized HB 805 because it violated municipal home rule. The next day, he led House Republicans in voting to micromanage Albuquerque's affairs.
The bill passed the House easily, since, Silva and Saavedra head two of the chambers most important committees, transportation and appropriations, but died in the Senate when time expired (whew!). Its sponsors are considering making it a rider to a must-pass budget bill in the next 30-day session (uh-oh).
Council President Winter virtually lived in the Roundhouse fighting to protect the city's right to self-determination. Winter is still angry, but an awfully nice guy. Asked to explain what the heck happened, he would only say he was "lost for words."
Well, here's a few suggestions straight from my Webster's. Let's start with "betrayal" on page 133. On page 313, I see "corruption." "Nepotism," from page 909, is a fine word. And on page 1462 is "unprincipled," which describes all the pols who tried to shaft our city.
I know you can find a few choice words of your own. Send your selections to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will pass them along to Messrs. Payne, Silva and Saavedra. Better yet, tell them yourself: email@example.com; Dan Silva: 831-2185; Kiki Saavedra: 242-9582. (You need to call the last two. They don't heed e-mail ... or constituents.)
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. Scarantino, an Albuquerque attorney, can be heard on 106.3 FM on Saturdays at 10 a.m.
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