Alibi V.17 No.20 • May 15-21, 2008 

Council Watch

Out, Out, Little Green Spot

Anti-smoking activists showed up at the May 5 meeting to support Councilor Michael Cadigan's anti-smoking bill even though it was not on the agenda. Cadigan said a great deal of misinformation had been spread about the bill, which adopts state law as city law and eliminates an exemption allowing smoking in retail tobacco stores.

Cadigan said his bill did not affect private clubs such as Monte's Pueblo Pipe Shop. He said cigar bars must have a state permit and a liquor license and none are licensed in New Mexico.

In other actions, councilors unanimously approved an agreement with Citylink Fiber Holdings. The company will run a fiber-optic network though public rights of way in return for free, high-speed Internet access for city buildings and schools.

Councilors also approved a zone change allowing a hotel with a liquor license at the old Memorial Hospital building at Central and I-25. The property's Santa Fe owners plan to renovate the building into high-end lodging.

Councilors Isaac Benton and Debbie O'Malley were excused for the evening.

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Cadigan moved a substitute for a controversial bill phasing out water-wasting toilets, inefficient methods of spray irrigation and excessively thirsty landscaping. Three people spoke supporting the bill.

Saying that the city's water conservation efforts leveled off in the last two years, Cadigan urged everyone to actually read the bill.

He said most of it was existing regulation and the city should "make sure its own house is clean before imposing more rules on citizens."

Cadigan said a deadline in the bill for high-flow toilets in city buildings would encourage switching out the fixtures before rebates for low-flow toilets expired. The bill also sets a 2015 deadline for removing high-water-use turf on slopes and on spots smaller than 10 feet in diameter on city property, along with other high water-use landscaping. The bill exempts parks, golf courses or facilities where the regulations would create unreasonable expense or hazard.

Councilor Trudy Jones said the bill put the cart before the horse. Jones questioned whether we "want to see dirt yards and dead trees." She asked what the bill's requirements might do to the city, the temperatures and the atmosphere, and called for a cost analysis. Councilor Don Harris said he'd also like a cost analysis.

Council President Brad Winter wanted more discussion of the Water Utility Authority's role. Cadigan said the seven years until 2015 gave entities time to work expenses into their maintenance budgets, and there are plenty of low-water-use grass species available. Councilor Rey Garduño said it was a good piece of legislation. Jones said she was against water micromanagement and being told what to do. She said she'd like to see a different fee structure.

Councilor Ken Sanchez wanted a cost analysis and suggested the city extend rebate programs. Councilor Sally Mayer wanted "to see the science behind this." She said the environmental movement was called "green," not "brown." Cadigan said he would consider splitting the bill into measures affecting different entities. Councilors deferred the bill for three months.
Splitting the legislation is a good idea, as is getting more financial data and clarifying the role of the Water Authority. It's also a good idea to have the city analyze its own costs, as Cadigan suggested. And it's wonderful to see Jones and Mayer so concerned about the environment and the atmosphere.

Funny how opponents of a conservation bill generally say they support the goal of the bill and really want legislation, just not this particular legislation. The ultimate goal is usually a law that's no more than a mild suggestion. (See "The Bush Administration," ad nauseam.) Someone always supports leaving it to the wisdom of the marketplace.

The problem is, that approach never levels the playing field. Those who do the right thing give up a financial advantage, no matter how slight, to the more rapacious. Changes in public perception eventually kick in—for instance, the slow realization that oversized vehicles have turned from Macho-mobiles into Bozo-mobiles. But waterwise, we probably don't have time for people to decide that vast green lawns look sort of clueless.
Sinking into the Plastic Ooze

Mayer sponsored a memorial calling on the mayor to ban the use of city funds for plastic eating or drinking utensils unless they are biodegradable, reusable or recyclable. Plastics, made from petroleum, never degrade or disappear from the environment. Because a memorial has no legal force, Mayer said she would follow up with an ordinance setting the same policy.
Mayer said the website advertised biodegradable utensils. Mayer complained that Los Ranchos was recycling plastic categories one through eight while Albuquerque only recycled categories one and two. Harris said he didn't want seniors and poor kids to be hurt by the city going to a slightly more expensive product. The bill passed unanimously.

It's an improvement, although the products are made from corn, currently scarce because of the subsidy-funded ethanol boom. Also, the products must be composted instead of just thrown in a landfill. But the problem is staggering. Besides clogging landfills, plastic junk—from containers to six-pack rings to the micro-spheres used in cosmetic exfoliants—ends up contaminating oceans and the marine food chain.