Alibi V.15 No.46 • Nov 16-22, 2006 

Council Watch

Pandas on Wheels

One of seven proposed versions of a Central Avenue streetcar is shown in an artist’s rendering.
One of seven proposed versions of a Central Avenue streetcar is shown in an artist’s rendering.
Courtesy of The City of Albuquerque

Election Eve Council meetings often end early, but on Nov. 6 one blockbuster bill and several side dishes kept councilors working late. Councilor Debbie O'Malley sponsored an administration proposal to expand city recycling services to multi-family dwellings of more than 25 units. The proposal passed unanimously.

Councilor Isaac Benton's bill declaring a six-month moratorium on residential construction in the Silver Hills neighborhood until the local sector development plan can be amended passed with only Councilor Don Harris opposed. But most of the long meeting was spent riding the Toonerville Trolley.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Sharing the Space

Land in Tijeras Canyon belonging to HawkWatch International is for sale.

Council President Martin Heinrich sponsored a bill for the city to spend up to $650,000 of the city's $3.75 million Open Space fund to purchase the 67-acre property. The land, which lies north of I-40 and just east of the Tres Pistoles Open Space, is part of a natural wildlife corridor between the Sandia and Manzano Mountains.
Wildlife can cross I-40 through underpasses, but they often cause wrecks when trying to cross old Hwy. 66/333, which runs roughly parallel. Mark Watson, habitat specialist with the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish, described strategies to reduce accidents, including fencing and electrified strips to keep animals in safe corridors until they cross the roads. The bill passed unanimously. Sometimes a piece of land can accommodate many uses, but this particular property seems ill-suited for anything other than what the bill prescribes--giving the critters a little room to move around before we wipe them out entirely. The property will also continue to provide hiking trails and opportunities for watching bald and golden eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey.
Ends and Means

In 1999, the Council put a measure on the ballot raising gross receipts taxes one-quarter of a percent to fund transportation needs. To insure voter approval, the Council added a sunset clause ending the tax in 2009.

The tax's revenues have increased significantly and Mayor Martin Chavez has been pushing for a streetcar system. Heinrich and Benton sponsored a bill extending the transportation tax and also using it to finance a $280 million streetcar line.

Twenty-seven supporters of the Modern Streetcar said it would help their hotels or their businesses in Old Town. Several students from Downtown Amy Biehl High School said they would use the trolleys to commute to school. Supporters said the streetcar line would greatly increase property values and investment along its route. Several speakers stressed the environmental superiority of electric trolley cars over buses.

Sixteen opponents said the Council shouldn't extend a tax when voters had approved a sunset clause. They said the trolley route along Central from Atrisco Plaza to Nob Hill would only serve a small portion of city residents. Other speakers said no real analysis had been done on the system's financial viability.
Ed Adams, chief operating officer, said each streetcar would carry about 150 people and travel almost 30 miles per hour. The second phase, funded by the state, would connect Central to the Sunport and sports facilities.

Transit Director Greg Payne said streetcars were cheap relative to other energy conservation measures, and that Rapid Ride would still operate along the Central corridor. Payne said property values on a Charlotte, N.C., streetcar route increased 89 percent. The bill included a provision for a Tax Increment Development District (TIDD) that would allocate up to 75 percent of property and sales tax increases attributed to the streetcar to transportation.

Councilor Craig Loy amended the open-ended tax bill to expire in 2020. Councilor Brad Winter said it was "arrogant" of the Council to dump the original sunset date. Winter's amendment to put the bill on the ballot failed. Councilor Michael Cadigan said other cities built similar projects for $60 to $80 million, and that he couldn't support the bill in its current form. Benton said it would "never be less expensive to build the system than it is right now." The bill passed 6-3, with Cadigan, Winter and Harris opposed.
How could anyone be against trolleys? They're exceedingly green and almost as cute as pandas. Maybe next year's Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog will feature His and Hers Modern Streetcars.

This quarter-billion dollar stocking stuffer made business movers and shakers' eyes light up like moppets on Christmas Eve. And, as always seems to happen, the Sugarplum Fairy promised this year's gift would finally, magically turn Albuquerque into a World Class Destination City. The bill also funds necessary maintenance for streets, trails and buses, but the streetcar earmark drew all the attention. One opponent of the streetcar system labeled it a "tourist trolley," with the same price tag as the notorious Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere." However, one of the ironies of the bill is that it adds a streetcar line to the one city transportation corridor that is already adequately served. Well, riders and routes are like chickens and eggs.

We have to support public transportation. Our cars are killing us. The streetcar sounds like a great amenity, but it will primarily serve tourists and business owners along route--not that there's anything wrong with that.